What freedom means

For this month's Psychologies Book Club read, Lauren Hadden discusses a book that offers a 21st-century perspective on feminism and how we can continue the conversation


What freedom means

Feminism is a conversation we women – and, increasingly, interested men – have been having for a long time now.

It's a vital conversation (not an argument) that we need to keep having because, as 28-year-old Laurie Penny – the latest woman to join the conversation – points out, 'feminism isn't an identity. It's a process'. And we're nowhere near the end of that process yet. In fact, part of the dialogue is about where exactly 'there' is.

For a good chunk of the 20th century, feminism seemed to be about women's right to work – important in the days when that wasn't always a guarantee unless, as Penny points out, you were working class, in which case it wasn't a question you were given much chance to ponder.

So began the great obsession with 'having it all'…'Work, beauty and romance, then marriage, mortgage and kids: that definition of total freedom has been allowed to conquer our imaginations, leaving no space for any other lives,' suggests Penny. 'But what if we want something else? Is that still allowed? What if we want freedom?'

What feminism has really always been about is power – who has it, who doesn't, how we might change that, and what sharing power might mean or look like. Penny's challenging, breathtaking book Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies And Revolution (Bloomsbury, £12.99) will open up all the old questions, and create new ones. How far you agree with her that the ultimate answer is deep economic and social change might depend on your politics, but you'll have a fine time discussing the possibilities.

'The appropriate response when somebody demands a change in [an] unfair system is to listen, rather than turn away or yell, as a child might, that it's not your fault,' Penny reminds us. 'Of course it isn't your fault. I'm sure you're lovely. That doesn't mean you don't have a responsibility to do something about it.'

Next month: Lila by Marilynne Robinson (Virago, £16.99)