femalethingI first read about The Female Thing on Gawker in a post written by my favorite (now ex-)editor, Emily Gould. I’m always up for reading books about women’s issues and feminism–in college, I took a course called “The Woman Writer,” where I was one of only two guys. (The other one was a jelly-braceleted, bottle-blonde waif who only showed up once every month or so.)

I read the whole thing in an afternoon, really quickly, and really dug it, so much so that I wanted to send a copy to my sister. In a really breezy and funny way, Kipnis separates the female psyche into four sections (and essays): Envy, Sex, Dirt and Vulnerability.

The main crux of her argument is that, basically, women are their own worst enemies, because of the tension between feminism and femininity. Feminism’s aim is to equalize the genders; femininity’s aim is to give women a unique power on an uneven playing field…despite the fact that it’s grounded in notions of female inadequacy.

It sounds weighty and it is, but it’s written with verve and a great sense of humor about how fucked up gender identity and relations can be, even at a time when we’re supposedly more enlightened than ever.

I really admire someone like Kipnis, who can make something like this so accessible and pleasurable to read. She distills the philosophical positions of complex figures like Andrea Dworkin with respect and intelligence. (I spent a lot of time while reading it Wikipedia-ing different people she discusses–it’s so fascinating how you can lose yourself following difference references. I even found another book I’m going to read this way.)

You know how when you’re having a discussion with someone, maybe at a party or at lunch, and a subject comes up that you feel passionate about but wish you were better informed? I’d love to be able to articulate my views as eloquently and quippily as Kipnis. It’s one reason why I love reading any of Antonia Fraser’s historical biographies: the mixture of sensitivity, authority and warmth.

I wish that I had the skill to write the way these women do!