Sex-positive feminism

Jennie O’Hara reviews Meat Market: Female Flesh under Capitalism, by Laurie Penny
November 2011

Recent campaigns such as SlutWalk suggest a new feminism is on the rise, one that emphasises fighting for women’s rights to have control over their own bodies through wearing whatever they want and asserting that rape is never the fault of the survivor. In her insightful and thought-provoking book, Laurie Penny provides the ideal theoretical backdrop for this new feminism to frame its anger by outlining how capitalism has created a trade in female flesh, which she argues has led to fear and oppression of women’s bodies.

Penny highlights how the economy is dependent upon women’s compliance and subservience; and how, in order to avoid revolt, various forces work to ensure women are made docile. She argues that by understanding how our bodies are controlled and manipulated in and by markets, women can begin to fight back.

The book includes many of Penny’s own experiences feeling like a piece of meat in the trade of female flesh. The personal truly is political as she describes her own battle with anorexia and how she has come to no longer fear her body or the space she takes up in an attempt to empower other young women to reclaim space for positive female flesh.

The book succinctly outlines the main contentious arguments in contemporary British feminism – including trans inclusion and sex work – with a polite explanation and well-researched rebuttals of points on both sides of the argument. Penny likens what she sees as the anti-sex rhetoric of many feminists to that of right-wing moral crusaders. Her sex-positive attitude and calls for women to engage in an ‘abundance of real sex’ certainly makes for refreshing reading.

Although not intended as an introductory text to feminism, Meat Market serves as such. This is not because it is immediately accessible but because it provides a comprehensive analysis of the numerous ways women’s bodies are controlled and modified by the state, the media, capitalist forces, the sex industry – and other women.


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