Book Review: Sexual Revolution - Modern Fascism and the Feminist Fightback by Laurie Penny

Book cover.

This is a story about how modern masculinity is killing the world, and how feminism can save it. It's a story about sex and power and trauma and resistance and persistence. It's a story about how you can track the crisis of democracy against the crisis of White masculinity, and how the far right is rising in response to both. It's a story about a social change. And at the centre of that story is one simple idea: we are in the middle of a sexual revolution. Laurie Penny charts how, in our era of crisis, we are also witnessing a productive transformation: profound and permanent changes in how we define gender, sex, consent and whose bodies matter. These changes threaten the social and economic certainties that form our world. They threaten existing power structures, and they undermine the authority of institutions from the waged workplace to the nuclear family. No wonder the far right is fighting back so hard. Sexual Revolution is a hand grenade of a book: both a manifesto for social change and a story of how feminism can save us.

This is a difficult and unrelenting book.

If you're already tapped-in to the modern feminist movement, there's little here that's new. But, if this is all new to you (welcome!), it's an excellent starting point. Although sprinkled with footnotes, it isn't a dense academic tome. As with many modern books, it blends together the author's personal experiences with more a more objective history.

I found some of the themes it discussed deeply uncomfortable. That's, in part, by design. There's no easy way to talk about sexual and emotional assault. But it also reflects my obliviousness to some of the things that feminism is fighting.

Sadly, I don't think it quite hits the mark on tying the fight for feminism as the fight against fascism. It makes several large logical leaps which I found difficult to follow. Yes, there is a pervasive strand of sexism within the far right. And the book touches on why some women are attracted to that. But it doesn't quite make the case for embracing feminism to vanquish fascism.

There's an excellent chapter focussing on men, and how we're often socialised into sexism as a default. But, weirdly, the chapter ends by exonerating men as individuals and blaming the culture we're raised in. I found that an unhelpful and (dare I say it) slightly patronising viewpoint. Yes, we all live in a patriarchy and suffer the consequences. But there has to be some level of personal responsibility - both to change ourselves and the wider society.

I doubt you'll agree with all of it. It may even make you angry. But this is important. It is a rallying cry for the profound - and sometimes scary - freedom that feminism promises. It is clear that the hyper-machismo world-view we're stuck in isn't working for the majority of people. I hope this book convinces you that change is coming. It is inevitable, slightly messy, sometimes confusing, and utterly liberating.

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