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I promised myself no reviews of books I read during vacation, so instead of a booknote for the most invigorating Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution (Bloomsbury 2014) by Laurie Penny (aka @PennyRed), I’m going to offer up a couple of passages that spoke to me particularly in light of recent events.

If you want a more in-depth treatment, check out Rachel Hill’s piece at The Dish.

Or you could just read Unspeakable Things. And then pass it along to your FBF (feminist best friend) so s/he can read it. And then go kick some neoliberal ass.

[LiveJournal is] how I learned to write in public, in a way far more immediate, far more enticing and personal, than the blank, limited audience of the college newspaper could ever be.

I wrote to survive, but I learned how to be a writer online, and so did millions of other women all over the world. Ad not just how to write, but how to speak and listen, how to understand my own experience and raise my voice. I educated myself online. Grew up online. And on blogs and journals and, later, in the pages of digital magazines, I discovered that I wasn’t the only pissed-off girl out there. The Internet made misogyny routine and sexual bullying easy, but first it did something else. It gave women, girls and queer people space to speak to each other without limits, across borders, sharing stories and changing our reality. (157)

And on the dark side…

Although the technology is new, the language of shame and sin around women’s use of the Internet is very, very old. The answer seems to be the same as it always has been whenever there’s a moral panic about women in public space: just stay away. Don’t go out in those new, exciting worlds: wait for the men to get there first and make it safe for you, and if that doesn’t happen, stay home and read a book.

People learn to code by playing in coded space. We learn the Internet by being there, by growing there, by trial and error and risk-taking. If the future is digital, if tech skills and an easy facility with the Internet are to be as essential as they appear for building any kind of career in the twenty-first century, then what we are really saying when we tell girls and their parents that cyberspace is a dangerous place for them to be? We’re saying precisely what we’ve been saying to young women for centuries: we’d love to have you here in the adult world of power and adventure, but you might get raped or harassed, so you’d better just sit back down and shut up and fix your face up pretty. (165)

At the same time as girls everywhere are warned to stay offline if we want to preserve a paleo-Victorian notion of our ‘reputation’, we are told that sex and violence on the Internet isn’t ‘real.’ A robot can reach through the screen and grab your pink bits has not yet become a standard add-on with every laptop, so sex online can’t be real. Can never be coercive. (168)

Don’t let the “just stay away” brigade win. Speak. Write. Live in our networked publics. We are citizens of the world and are entitled — all of us — to inhabit our territory.

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