Laurie Penny speaks on women and protest

In a public talk last night Laurie Penny argued that anger over sexism is mounting, the left is struggling to respond and there's more to feminist history than the Suffragettes. Jenny Nelson reports.

January 23, 2013
3 min read


Jenny Nelson is Red Pepper’s political organiser.

Women have participated in and been key players in a host of radical struggles throughout history. But for Laurie, the story of women’s liberation has been forcibly decoupled from stories of general liberation and parked in the past, as something over-and-done with. That’s why we usually only hear about the Suffragettes.

Just as Selma James argued in 1972 that feminism is about money, power and economics, Laurie Penny insists that feminists embrace socialism. She is dismayed at what she sees as the recent triumph of ‘right wing feminism’.

This ‘Sex in the City Feminism’ accepts that as long as some of us get to do what we want then it’s okay that the majority of women still suffer under an oppressive economic system.

Today we could be close to a tipping point in the movement for change, Laurie observed. We’ve seen explosions of anger in Slutwalks, Occupy, Pussy Riot, protests in India and more. But unfortunately the left is ‘tearing itself apart’ by failing to deal with issues of sexism, she said.

For instance, earlier last year, Laurie noticed cracks in the Occupy movement forming when a row broke out over a video of ‘hot Occupy chicks’.

More recently the Socialist Workers Party attempted to deal internally with an allegation of rape against a senior member, and we’ve also witnessed a transphobic outburst from Julie Burchill.

As for how the left should organise to deal with sexism, Laurie touched on this but admitted she doesn’t have all the answers.

She did suggest that as a key environment for organising, ‘the internet is the most violently misogynist public space we have right now. So like Reclaim the Night, we need to Reclaim the Net.’

She also stated that since feminsm is against ‘biology as destiny’, the left must address trans issues and can’t sidestep the issue.

Laurie’s talk was delivered in exasperation but with a good sense of humour. She noticed the lack of strong voices defending free contraception in the USA and laughed ‘Women want the pill because we want to fuck!’

The talk was part of the LSE’s Ralph Miliband Programme and a podcast should be available soon.


Jenny Nelson is Red Pepper’s political organiser.


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