The Lie That’s Killing Feminism

Internalized misogyny runs deep. Even insightful women may find themselves suspicious of women-lead movements.

Van Badham writes for Guardian Australia. In addition to the coolest name in journalism, this week she has some sharp words about the current state of the Battle of the Sexes.

Pink Couch Convo

Boys are yucky, and you’re just as good as they are!

She trumpets the results of a new study from the University of Bath: Married mothers who earn more than their husbands take on an even greater share of the housework, a study from the University of Bath in the UK has found – the more they earned over their partner, the more housework they did.

“Women who earn more than men do more household labour, it concludes, because the situation implies a gender norm variation for which women feel obliged to compensate.”

She’s playing his role, and centuries of debasement mean he can’t bring himself to adopt hers. But the laundry ain’t gonna do itself.

“Why obliged? The study says conceptions of masculinity are near inextricable from the ancient ‘male breadwinner’ role.

Oh, come now! Can men really be expected to adjust? Those creatures who forged civilization and colonized the planet navigating by the stars – Can we really expect them to behave intelligently?

Sarcasm aside, Van makes a very important point – “I’ll say what the study can’t: Women learn, as girls, there is no greater danger than a man who perceives his masculinity is threatened by them.”

Here she pokes the doughy center of every heterosexual relationship – A man’s greatest fear is a woman laughing at him, while a woman’s greatest fear is that a man will kill her. When your potential partners are also your biggest potential threat, not all the tension is sexual. You don’t need to shoot a gun to know it’s best to treat them all as if they’re loaded.

But, rather than dig into this power imbalance and why it lingers despite economic changes, Van blurs micro and macro to basically blame ‘society’: “Straight domestic relationships are where the deeply ingrained gender stereotypes go, like vampires, to feed on women’s blood and maintain eternal life.”

Rising From The Grave

No! My instincts died with my innocence!

Why are these gender stereotypes so ingrained?? Could it have anything to do with the inevitable interactions of mechanistic material dynamics? Making six figures won’t make you stronger than him. The sweetest man in the world cannot gestate your child for you. If we’re talking about the mundane frustrations of family life, we must acknowledge the whole, gritty picture. Otherwise we’re just feeling sorry for ourselves.

Alas, Van’s deep digs at Liberal Feminism belie her ignorance of anything happening outside of it – A mutant alliance of conservative radicals and biologically-determinist feminist separatists…”

Wow, you sure got my number there, Van. My husband will be very interested to know I’m not speaking to him anymore, right after you finish explaining what ‘biologically-determinist’ actually means.

“…are out to insist that the greatest threat to women is not the intimate partner violence of fact, but the swim-champ trans women of fiction.”

A link takes us to a denial of Lia Thomas’ physical advantages. Here we have an explicit demonstration of the limits of LibFem analysis – Van can’t address the physical, material  factors that shape women’s domestic lives because she’d have to admit that we are different from men, after all.

Liberal Feminism long ago gave away the Different But Equal card in exchange for entrance to the Cool Boys Club. To highlight the distinction of femaleness is to admit we don’t belong.

And while chiding LibFems, Van is singing the same song, “An avalanche of actively anti-trans legislation in the United States” Pause for the obligatory reminder that outlawing the mutilation of healthy children is pro-children, not anti-trans. 

“…is not an ‘over there’ problem when its scare-campaign talking points – always directed at women – are echoed both by Australia’s conservative MPs and the ambitious boys of its liberal Greens.” Leaving aside Aussie politics, it’s pretty rich to complain about scare-campaign talking points right after regurgitating one!

In The Backyard

All this feels strangely familiar!

Perhaps these campaigns are aimed at women because there’s a movement afoot, Van. And there’s always room for a smart woman like you.

“Dare I suggest that the aggressive scapegoating of transgender women by an invested, patriarchal hierarchy is a cunning misdirection, given that more money and more power for the lucky few has still not provided women with gender equality in the home?”

Observations this astute tend to get a person labeled a conspiracy theorist. But who put the transwomen there, Van? After so many feminist gains, why are we defending the very definition of the word ‘woman’ in public discourse and law?

“’Woman’ is a problematised term not because of any transgender activism.” Really? Because ‘inclusive language’ is kinda their thing. “It’s because the modern expectations of what it means to be a “woman” are so demanding, contradictory and structurally unsatisfying, they are impossible for everyone.”

That’s why the gates are left undefended – We’ve gotten so busy pushing ourselves and hating ourselves and dumping our negativity onto other women that we’ve forgotten what it’s all for.

And Van points this out- It’s really nice to finally see someone else bringing this up. She describes how we’re immersed in a “culturally mainstreamed, ‘go girl’ liberal feminism that has massaged ‘girls can do anything’ to mean ‘girls should do everything, all the time’. 

“You must have #nolimits – especially when it comes to sexual experimentation – and yet confidently enforce boundaries, ‘dump the motherfucker already’ but have #couplegoals!” Yep, those double standards are a bitch. But when even adult human females struggle to be women, the temptation for fellas to show us girls how it’s done must be overwhelming!


Oh, you’re definitely a better shot than me – I don’t even know how you did that!

Van tears into Liberal Feminist messaging with a vengeance that feels personal, “The most important job in the world is still being a mother, so be an active parent, but not a helicopter parent. You should pursue your own dreams, but think outside the box, achieve a work-life balance but also lean in, ask for that raise, #BelieveAchieve and smash the glass ceiling. With your perfect face.

A line truly worthy of a cathartic spit-take.

“It’s the old paradox that insists the apex of womanhood is to be simultaneously virgin, mother and whore – except also now do this backwards in heels, making six figures on a keto diet at yoga while vacuuming and everything’s live on Instagram.”

Just reading that leaves me breathless – And she didn’t even mention the kids! The relentless spinning of the modern woman, our perpetual multitasking, keeps us drained and preoccupied. Which suits those who benefit from our current system just fine.

Culture is not encouraging this because it reflects any aspiration of the modern woman to be exhausted, strung out and burdened by feelings of performance failure. It’s because the patriarchy has realised Liberal Feminism’s potential to leave women so individually overburdened, stressed and anxious they don’t revolt against the vampiric masculinities in their lives.”

Vampire Standing Victim Kneeling

Holy shit, Gary! Close the door, it’s freezing!

That, and we all have a vampire we know and love. Tearing down the patriarchy cannot begin with tearing down our homes.

Working with men to end patriarchy may seem like a paradox, but I’m starting to think it’s the only way. No one said marriage was easy. Straight women are down in the trenches on the front lines of the Battle of the Sexes, with no clear strategy and no reinforcements. If we coordinate, we can push for the basic equality we all want – Freedom from fear.

Van is good at identifying problems. Resisting the urge to put the onus on individuals, she waves instead toward the nebulous evil of ‘patriarchy.’ Because patriarchy makes women more detail-oriented and gives men a narrow pelvis… They never quite think it through, do they?

Because to do that would be to admit defeat in Liberal Feminism’s most precious skirmish – That men and women are exactly the same (aside from the obvious external differences). That femaleness is so insignificant, it has no material impact on us whatsoever.

This is the blatant lie that’s killing feminism. Adhering to this lie makes any real analysis of our lives impossible.

It blinds us to our situation. It keeps us from seeing our shared problems. Giving in to this unearned ancient shame keeps us isolated and trapped in a man’s world.

Go Make Sammiches

I told you, babydoll, this is a business meeting! Go and fetch me and the guys some drinks!

Sure, a lot of the crap between women and men is cultural static. But a lot of that static emanates from hard realities of material existence that no amount of Leaning In will change.

Tuning out that static is important. But those of us on the front lines have a duty to trace it to its source, to stop allowing ourselves to be distracted from what our instincts are telling us.

This vital discussion can’t be had while smart women like Van Badham are still willfully ignoring the obvious. Collective amnesia will continue to ensure life’s traps ensnare all of us, one by one. 

Unless we can forgive ourselves for being female, feminism is doomed.

Laurie Penny: Love & Hypocrisy in the Time of Covid

*This week’s post about Women’s History is taking longer than expected to research. I don’t want to give you something half-baked, this came across my desk and I just had to…

Laurie Penny’s squandering of talent and privilege comes from the same pain we all feel.

Exasperation In Paris

Ugh, material existence is such a pain in the ass!

Another 80s baby, Laurie used her degree in English to build a personal brand from the remains of 90s Girl Power. She’s somehow been composing feminist screeds for major publications since her mid-20s, possessing an enviable list of credits and media awards.

Her 2016 entry Is Marriage Worth It? is a serviceable example of Laurie’s writing and philosophy. The humblebrag is strong: “I had been struggling to find language for my growing anxiety over the fact that, at almost 30, I still have no desire to settle down and form a traditional family.

“I’ve been waiting, as open-mindedly as possible, for a sudden neo-Darwinian impulse to pair up and reproduce. And yet here I am, and it hasn’t happened.” Having presented herself as the exception, there was always the risk that falling for someone would seem to prove the rule.

Providing evidence that feminist agitation is cured by meeting Mr. Right would be quite the embarrassment!

What’s Love Got To Do With It?

Laurie’s Wired article from last December – My Highly Unexpected Heterosexual Pandemic Zoom Weddingdelivers everything the title promises. Drawing upon all her propaganda experience, she weaves her words into a descriptive fabric she hopes is thick enough to obscure the corner she’s painted herself into. 

She tells us her adorkable love story to explain why she’s not a hypocrite – “Romance matters, and right now everyone I know seems to be understanding that in a new way. Everyone needs romance.”

I don’t disagree, but her only reasoning for abandoning her principles is to blame circumstances: “This year, though, the colliding catastrophes …  have made the entire question of normality somewhat moot.” 

“Nobody was more surprised than me when I suddenly caught the ball, in the shape of the heart of the kindest, most brilliant man I’ve ever met who somehow, inexplicably wants to hang out with me all the time, and there was nothing to do except run with it.”

Snarky Typist

Yes, it sure is cute how you keep failing up!

Laurie has a long way to run to feel comfortable in her good fortune. Stuck in the opposition, she’s preoccupied with framing this essential human experience as ‘deviant’ – “The most deviant commodity on the modern internet isn’t sex, it’s sincerity. It can’t be manufactured, and it’s difficult to replicate and resell, both of which make earnest enthusiasm suspect.”

But Laurie found her some! She’s just that edgy!

For someone so relentlessly defiant, she sure is worried about being judged: “I had begun to do things that confused those who know me well. Things like wearing bright colors and going outdoors to enjoy the sunshine.”

And just in case anyone mistakes her for Like The Other Girls, Laurie pathologizes pair bonding with everything she’s got – “While I have never had a manic episode, I feel obligated to inform the relevant medical professionals if I’m ever planning to do anything that sounds like someone in a manic state might conceivably do.”

…Like fall for a guy she barely knows. Has this woman somehow missed every single Romance film ever made??


But this sweet, relatable story is very off-brand for Laurie.

I guess I’ve missed her because most of her work has been in the UK. Predictably, Laurie first caught my eye on Twitter.

Responding to someone identifying as, “former CEO of an LBG&T voluntary sector organization” asserting that there was an “overarching, coordinated ideological programme” after adding Trans representation to the their list of concerns, Laurie’s response was straightforward –

“I’d like to know more about this.”

Sly Smile

So you can figure the best way to bury it, amirite??

Good! I thought. Everyone needs to know more about this. Maybe someone’s journalistic curiosity has finally gotten the better of them.

Having looked into it, I think it’s pretty safe to say that’s not the case. The chorus of wry sarcasm flowing from that comment tells me I’m late to the party.

At first, I took her for about a decade younger – Black pleather and magenta hair combined with trendy defiance give the impression of a precocious newcomer to sexual politics. But Laurie is old enough to remember the Before Times. I’d even argue she’s used her status as a woman to build her reputation.

Getting in on the ground floor of blogging in 2007, her first wide exposure seems to have been the English arm of Occupy Wall Street. She gave several interviews in 2011, but my amazingly in-depth research yielded no obvious reason for Laurie as mouthpiece for Occupy.

Regardless, she went on to publish several heavily feminine-coded books. A 2012 collection of blog posts carries the title, Notes From the New Age of Dissent. Laurie has established herself as a dissident and rabble-rouser, that edgy bitch who’s a step ahead of the rest of us.

It must have been terribly embarrassing for her to fall in love! And with an opposite-sex partner from a similar background, no less! How mundane. How positively vanilla. How totally un-oppressed, how non-marginalized. How mainstream. How normal.

Identity Springs Eternal

The Wired article looks very much like Laurie trying to get in front of accusations of hypocrisy: “As I put it to him early on, and this is an exact quote: “I may be a wild and untamable trauma-twitchy anarcha-feminist fundamentally personally and politically opposed to het partnership as a social organizing principle,” but everyone wants romance! Feminism!

“…But I’m also not a fucking fool.” Bravery is laying out your principled perspective, then admitting you’d be foolish to follow it.

To be fair, she admits she never expected to face the predicament of Going Steady, “My whole life, the whole of heterosexuality has felt to me like a school sports game I’ve been reluctantly made to play, and nobody wants me on the team.” The reader is left to wonder how she managed to experience the whole of heterosexuality, especially if she never got picked!


There are other ways to pass the time, you know…

These days she calls herself Genderqueer, but doesn’t claim to be anything other than straight. All I could find were repetitious iterations of Relationships are weird!

She’s even written a few things critiquing the sex industry, but that’s not on-trend anymore. Gender ideology has taken the place of any feminist ideas in Laurie’s relatively large, public body of work –  forming a nifty case study in the trajectory from Feminist Firebrand to Genderqueer Guerilla.

And, at the risk of riding my own biases, it’s what I’ve suspected for ages – Cognitive dissonance rots your brain!

Form Over Dysfunction

I read The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in the 5th grade. I’m not bragging, but I am a nerd. My grandparents had bought me a whole set of classic books in cheap paperback for Christmas, and that was the year I learned what ‘unabridged’ meant.

Most of them went unread, but I’ve always been attracted to Horror and the unexplained. Mr. Stephenson’s accessible writing was a pleasant surprise.

I sometimes wonder what kind of person I would be if I hadn’t read that book at that moment. In it, I saw a man consumed by his rejection of his less-flattering qualities. I saw an obvious metaphor for mental dysfunction, and to this day I’m not sure if Stephenson meant it that way.

I may have been seeing what I needed to see, and I’m fine with that. I’ve spent the years since learning to practice radical honesty, if only within my own head.

Elder Millennial

The demands of practicality are seldom pretty!

Jekyll & Hyde was horrifying on a level few stories are. Creeping terror inhabits not just the words on the page but the subtext as well, which I couldn’t really understand. Ignorance worked in my favor for once, adding to the otherworldly atmosphere of the novel. 

It shook me, and it taught me a lesson – Shine a light on your flaws, because they only grow in the shadows. And, eventually, they can overtake you. This idea stuck with me as I got older, and I began to recognize it in the world around me. Adult life even has a simple word for it: Denial.

All You Need Is Denial

Allowing cognitive dissonance promotes mental static. Many people appear to deal with encountering contradictory thoughts by championing one and ignoring the other. Things escalate quickly when the unpopular idea refuses to be ignored.

You have to repeat this choice over and over and over to make it stick, performing a type of self-hypnosis. As if changing your personal perception might actually change material reality.

Too much of this makes authenticity impossible, acting without thinking risks breaking the spell.

The most useful emphasis is on being a functional person, rather than vexing ourselves about something untestable like ‘Good.’ It’s pretty easy to tell whether your state of mind is functional or not.

Stumbling into a core human experience shouldn’t threaten to bring your paradigm crashing down. This is a good sign it wasn’t terribly functional to begin with, Laurie my dear.

Oppositional defiance doesn’t work if daily life becomes pleasant. Defining yourself by The Struggle carries the hidden cost of pathological fear of success. If you’re not a warrior for the downtrodden, what’s the point?

Purple Drinker

Without external validation, I’ll have to find meaning in life on my own!

All this points to some pretty dark beliefs – Making your life about The Struggle demonstrates a profound pessimism that it will ever actually end. Insisting you’re on a Holy Mission only hints at a lack of personal meaning. 

The Personal, The Political

Near the end of about 2,000 words explaining why it’s OK to fall in love, Laurie stumbles upon an excitingly relevant question, “What does partnership look like when gender roles and domestic norms are collapsing along with every socioeconomic certainty?”

Feminism has little to say here, and Laurie is no help: “For us it looked like watching the election results come in from Georgia on the television in an Airbnb, clinging like a barnacle to the rock face of central Los Angeles.”

When the rubber of theory meets the road of life, Identity Ideologues find they have no traction. Laurie’s 15 years in Journalism and feminist discussion left her completely unprepared for the rudimentary milestone of adulthood: “After a lot of Googling, it became clear that the only way for us to see each other before 2021 was for us to somehow become each other’s immediate family. He asked how I would feel about the two of us becoming kin.

“I panicked and went to bed with my phone for the rest of the day. “

In 2016, Laurie was prepared to spend her life alone: “Marriage and babies have always been way down my list of priorities, and they’re close to being nudged right off. There’s too much else I want to do. I’ve made the same choice that men my age have been able to make for centuries without being scolded by society, or even having to think about it too much.”

But women are not men! 

“I had in fact specifically designed my life so I would never be obliged to shape it around a man, and was open enough about that fact that the issue had so far failed to come up.”

But neglecting to consider you might have different needs turned out to be a mistake.  Been there!


How did he make this look so fun??

Like many of us left to figure things out for ourselves while our parents deconstructed society, Laurie wasn’t aware of the startlingly mechanical nature of authentic chemistry – “The distance helped. I could tell myself that I wasn’t really falling for him, and even if I was, there was no danger of that interrupting all of my carefully laid plans. 

“We started sending each other cakes and tiny treats, getting friends on the other side of the world to facilitate deliveries. By July, it was becoming horribly obvious that it wasn’t just the distance that made this different.”

“It was safe to be vulnerable, to be enthusiastically non-neurotypical.” Well, yeah, you gotta make sure your weird is compatible with their weird! “It was terrifyingly safe to start to care about him, and what to do next was unexpectedly obvious.”

Love Vs. Politics

Old folklore describes love as a sickness, a syndrome with recognizable symptoms. Considering our rosy modern estimation of it, you’d think our society would have something useful to teach us.

But 2016 Laurie reminds us, “The burden [of family life] has fallen on women to such an extent that it has been naturalised, made invisible by the assumption that women and girls are just built to take care of all this stuff, if not by God then by nature, with a great deal of pseudo-scientific handwaving over the specifics.”

Laurie reanimates this ungainly concept by reversing the polarity: “The idea that we might not be, and that we might furthermore be fed up of doing so thanklessly and for free, is profoundly threatening to the smooth running of society as we know it.” To be single is to be subversive.

This is why a proposal from her sweetheart sent her into a panic. Laurie has dedicated so much energy to her tapestry of dissent, she never bothered to really look into what she was rejecting.

Witch Flight

Ooh, I’m telling Dad you went out like that!

“I have no idea what’s going to happen next, any more than I can explain why every bizarre thing he does is brilliant.” Welcome to life! It’s unpredictable and unfathomable. No amount of philosophy will stop it from demonstrating that.

But the jagged pill at the core of all this posturing and denial is that Laurie Penny has been helping discredit feminism for 15 years. She is a loud voice in the chorus proclaiming gender critics right-wing conservatives, and not to be trusted.

Substituting virtue-signaling for ethics means she does what she can to keep other women from discovering alternatives to the philosophy that boxed her in. This sudden Romantic turn feels like a final blow struck as she exits the stage, damage done and profit in hand. 

But I don’t see it that way. Laurie has discovered the embedded trigger that is love. I don’t think this proves a feminist just needs a man, so much as it demonstrates how untrue the supposedly feminist approach to women’s lives really is.

Maybe that newlywed glow will carry her past the vista of her own cognitive dissonance. But I hope she gets a glimpse, I hope it haunts her until she has to figure it out. She’d probably write about it.

How romantic!