Laurie Penny – 'Women have tried being nice and it hasn't worked'

Laurie Penny - 'Women have tried being nice and it hasn't worked'

The journalist's new collection of provocative essays stem from both anger and hope

Award-winning British feminist journalist Laurie Penny has made a career out of pulling zero punches. Dissecting the issues of our day (from the rise of Trump to internet dating), she has written columns and essays with both intelligent insight and brutal honesty. Some of her most resonant pieces are included in new collection The Bitch Doctrine, a title which some will see as provocative, but that the author views as entirely pragmatic.

'We're now at a stage of history where a lot of women are finding that we have tried being nice, we've tried making men feel comfortable, and it hasn't worked. So there's no point trying to be friendly about our politics anymore,' Penny laughs, on the phone from San Francisco where she's currently living and working. 'It's also very hard to find a title for a book of essays that sums up what's going on in a way that's not desperately boring.'

Boring is certainly not an adjective to describe Penny, who is as witty and engaging in person as she is in her writing, which spans the spectrum of human experience from geopolitics, elections and warfare to cinema, marriage and motherhood.

'I don't see any inconsistency between talking about the politics of how we respond to terrorism, and then talking about the politics of how we respond to the patriarchy on a very intimate and personal level. You can't talk about the economic structure of women's liberation without talking about online dating, who does the housework, beauty and dieting. All these things are written off as frivolous "women's issues", relegated to the lifestyle pages. But they are important because, apart from anything else, they're issues that many of us spend a lot of our time thinking about.'

Penny admits that tackling topics such as feminism or anti-capitalism poses difficulties simply because they are far from new issues. 'Some of the problems you find yourself describing every single day are the same problems that not only you've been talking about since you started but that people have been talking about for hundreds of years. It's a challenge to make it fresh, but also to pay homage to the long history of scholarship and thought.'

While Penny's writing is certainly fresh, it's also unapologetically outspoken in the way it confronts and dismantles a traditional order that is run by, and for, white men. Hers is an approach that brings with it a regular and abusive backlash. 'I have people saying "oh, you're such a strong woman, you're very brave". I know people mean well but I really object to that phrasing. I'm not strong, I'm angry!' Despite this, she's determined to carry on writing, in the hope that such targeted protest will help to affect change in an age of Trump, Brexit and a seemingly unstoppable swing to the right.

'Hope may feel unrealistic, but it's a tool,' she advocates. 'We're living through a very volatile time, and the worst thing that people can do is succumb to a sense of inevitability. Nothing is written about the future of humanity and of gender. Things can change very fast and, hopefully, in a few years this book will be entirely irrelevant. I will be happy about that.'

Laurie Penny, Charlotte Square Gardens, 18 Aug, 8.45pm, £12 (£10).

Laurie Penny

A self-confessed ‘nerd, nomad and activist’, Laurie Penny is a potent commentator about feminism, gender and political dystopia, all of which helped make her the youngest nominee ever of the Orwell Prize. With a fierce intelligence, she has challenged norms and tackled prejudice, and she talks about the raw material which…

Charlotte Square Gardens, Edinburgh

Fri 18 Aug

Studio Theatre

£12 (£10) / 0845 373 5888

Part of Edinburgh International Book Festival.

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