Laurie Penny’s new book makes Andrew Rumbles dream of a less superficial society.unspeakable things cover

I was watching Tomorrow People on the TV last night, or was it some other programme featuring gorgeously proportioned attractive young people?  Anyway the hero smoulders in his shorts, while the girl of his dreams fulfils his dreams by grabbing him for a lustful kiss. He hoists her to his hips and lowers her to his bed for a perfect sex performance. And now lots of young men and women have their own expectations raised. The gender roles portrayed seldom include queer, coloured, plain old everyday people.  We aren’t the successful on crowd stereotypes.

In our bedrooms and our boardrooms gender roles continue to be tightly proscribed. Successful women have perfect bodies, lustrous hair and manage work, children and relationships with a smile. All men will be the perfect lover and man by working to provide for their grateful partner.


Laurie Penny is a columnist and blogger who has taken part in Occupy campaigns and speaks as a conscience for our modern world. In her own failure to be a demure, pretty young thing without unpleasant opinions, she has become a shaper of things that need to be said and considered if humanity is to evolve. “The worst thing… is the look of disappointment on the face of someone you really care about when they find out you’re not their fantasy at all – you’re a real human who breaks wind and gas a job” is a pretty good summary of how she sees things.

 I am risking quoting Laurie out of context. Her book takes a lot of effort to build a narrative that gives context to the failure that modern society is at allowing the freedom to be really free to be who you are best at being.

“Men and boys who are socialised out of intimacy with anyone they’re not fucking,” she says pose a real challenge for anyone who is seeking a friend connection or just a moment of shared humanity.

Feminism made a difference, but still stereotypes and society influence and control how we as individuals perceive and respond to each other. Laurie has spent her life seeking what works for her in a total way. She resists compromise or partial happiness. “And in that running, what I found was that outside fairy tales, love happens all the time.”

This book isn’t an easy read because it both tries to explain some difficult concepts you may have never before considered and it also has to give context to how the fight for equality has and hasn’t worked for women, queers and anyone who isn’t a straight white male.

What she certainly achieves is the beginning of conversations and change that might mean society stops valuing the superficial and allows us to be comfortable at being the best us, not the one few of us could or would ever really want to be.

Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny is published by Bloomsbury, is available in stores from Monday 28 July 2014.

 Article | Andrew Rumbles