Sunday, 17 July 2011

Laurie Penny... looking familiar

A few weeks ago, I bought Laurie Penny’s short book Meat Market. I’d planned to blog a review of it but, after reading, was left feeling so “meh” about the book that I never did.

At £9.99 (less via Amazon) for 68 pages, Meat Market patently isn’t good value. But I knew this before I paid. However, after reading it I wondered how the publishers (Zero Books) were justifying £9.99 for what constitutes little more than a badly-edited pamphlet.

This aside, the content of Meat Market left me underwhelmed. Not so much in the message Laurie was imparting (ie, that women are items to be consumed), but more because I didn’t feel I was reading anything new in her book, or that I had learnt anything from it. I wondered what the point of Meat Market was.

Meat Market constitutes four brief chapters, which loosely inform each other, but none of them feels like new writing from Laurie. And here comes the big problem. Some quotes within this book appear to NOT be new. (If I'm wrong, then please forgive me writing this humble blog post.)

ONE: On page 18, Laurie quotes Finn Mackay (who Laurie calls ‘MacKay’, and the proof readers never corrected). No source is given in the footnotes, leading me to assume this is an interview Finn gave to Laurie for Meat Market. But when I contacted Finn yesterday to ask if she had been interviewed by Laurie for the book, Finn not only had no knowledge that she was even mentioned in the book, but said: “She never interviewed me or told me she was using quotes in her book. It must be from conversations years ago. I don’t think I’ve even spoken to her [Laurie] for about two years.” In fact, the quote Laurie uses by Finn was originally printed here.

TWO: Laurie attempts to pick apart some views made by Julie Bindel. While on page 38 Laurie states that she is quoting Julie from a 2009 article, on page 42 Laurie makes the claim that she interviewed Julie specifically for Meat Market for the subsequent quote (“… Bindel, when I spoke to her in the process of writing this book, emphasised …”) . A fact Julie refuted yesterday in a Tweet to me: “She [Laurie] said she interviewed me for her crap book. All lies. She never did.” A lengthy Twitter discussion broke out between Julie and Laurie, and Laurie confirms that the quotes she attributes to Julie as new and for the book were in fact based on a 2009 phone call. Laurie said: “I interviewed you in the autumn of 2009, on the telephone. It lasted about an hour! I can dig out the transcripts if you like…” But it’s the same quote attributed to Julie as being gathered in the preparation for Meat Market that Laurie uses here. Laurie later Tweeted to clarify: “that article was extended into c3 of my book. Just because you [Julie] don't like what you said doesn't make me a liar for writing it down”. (NB: I’m not calling Laurie a liar about anything, but I do wish it had been made clear to readers that some of the book had been available in other formats prior to publication.)

So, while I originally was left feeling cheated by Laurie’s book because of how unsubstantial and dated much of the content felt to me, there are now at least two instances of people quoted not even knowing they were going to appear in this book.

This made me wonder about the book in general, so I went on Google and put in “Laurie Penny” alongside the names of a few random others quoted in Meat Market. And this is what I found:

P2 – Dr Petra Boynton’s quote is from Laurie’s article here.

P13 – Dita von Teese’s quote is from Laurie’s article here.

P23-24 – Anorexic Hannah’s quotes are from Laurie’s article here.

P39-44 – Sally Outen’s quotes, trans Amy’s quotes, AND trans Kasper’s quotes, are all from two of Laurie’s articles here and here.

And, I was very surprised to see that quotes on page 62 from Judith Ramirez are identical to those printed in a March 1988 New Internationalist article by Jane Story.

- Is Laurie re-using quotes? If so, I wonder what people think about this?

- If this is true, I wonder why it was not made clear that parts of Meat Market have been previously published – as is usual when this is the case?

- I also wonder why the Judith Ramirez quotes (from 1988, and for your reference Laurie was born in 1986) are presented as if Judith spoke to Laurie, rather than being credited to where they appear to have come from. (Perhaps I'm wrong about this, and Judith did repeat herself verbatim to Laurie during her research for this book.)


  1. I am far from being a Laurie fan, but I cannot see what the big deal is about re-using quotes.
    Why are we demanding such high standards of "journalistic purity" for journalists? I cannot help but wonder that the reason is that too many people want to write for a living (and I'm amongst them) while too few people can actually do it.
    I used to do a similar thing and criticise Laurie quite harshly. And I could have justified it on the fact that I met her, one year ago, before she became super famous, and she showed me the same treatment as a discarded apple core.

    It has been difficult for me, and it still is, but I've learnt to see my problem with Laurie as "my" problem, nothing to do with her.

    I understand the impulse to judge her by some very high standard because she has got quite famous and we may feel that she should be able to live up to our expectations. But the fact is that Laurie's fame has had more to do with luck than actual talent. That's the way it works for most people: talent counts for little, or Terry Pratchett would be more famous than J K Rowling.

    So my way of dealing with my "Laurie problem" is to stop looking at what she does and start working on my writing. I am now trying to write a book-let. I may not be as famous as she is, but I still have a few things to say.

  2. Am neither saying I like nor dislike Laurie - having never met her, I don't feel in any position to comment on her as a person. But I would have liked some clarification that Meat Market was revisiting several of her previous articles and interviews (if this is what she has done). A book deal is a privilege denied to most (including many people who have something original to say): it irks me to see that privilege seemingly taken advantage of. If Laurie has re-used old quotes from her past interviews (and I'm only wondering if she has, based on what I've found online), then that strikes me as a little lazy.

  3. I agree that a book deal is a privilege. And to be honest it makes one wonder how she got the publishers to agree on taking a book with so much content straight from her blog. Considering how so many websites say to writers "do write for us, we won't pay you and by the way, we only take unpublished material".

    And it irks me too that she seemed to take advantage of that privilege. If I had a book deal I would try to take it a bit more seriously and write new stuff.

    But just as with Johann Hari, these are popular, published authors. So my question would be, are they being "lazy" or doing what it takes to get anywhere in modern media? After all, there is a system that doesn't seem to mind sloppy journalism.

  4. You ask: "Are they being lazy or doing what it takes to get anywhere in modern media?"

    To my mind, yes, if this is what has happened, then it is lazy. If an author has nothing new to say, why are they saying something simply for the indulgence of being able to say it? It's vain and pointless. And it's not fair to the consumer who has paid for a book in which they have assumed there will be fresh ideas - because there has been no disclaimer to say that some of the book has been previously printed elsewhere.

  5. It does seem rather slack. She seems to be using her own quotes, which makes her less culpable than Johann Hari (although the Ramirez quote is worrying), but I think book buyers are entitled to something new.

  6. I kind of agree with Mary Tracy. i think there are issues with the book, but aside from the Ramirez quote, she uses quotes and info from articles she has written before, so she isn't plagiarising or 'doing a Hari' even if it would have been courteous to let Finn and Julie know, for example, that she would be using those quotes. I guess saying she spoke to Julie whilst writing the book is a bit problematic tho, as it supposes that she was interviewed for the book.

    i guess it depends as well what you are expecting. Meat Market is a sum up of many of Laurie's articles and posts, presenting her views on women's position in a capitalist patriarchy. so i didn't find it problematic that she used material she has written already, because they are her views and angles on this problem.

    I felt the chapter on eating disorders was bloody brilliant, and the strongest part of the book, as an aside.

  7. Thanks. I have been careful not to link my problems with Laurie's book to what Johann Hari did, as I agree they are different issues.

    As for what I expected from the book: based on the publicity I read on Amazon and the Zer0 Books website, I expected Laurie's up-to-date take on the exploitation of women as items to be consumed. Nowhere did it say the book was an expensive rehash of some previous articles from the pat two or three years. Meat Market (after reading it) clearly is a "sum up of Laurie's many articles and posts" - but in that case, it should have been presented as an anthology or collection, rather than what looked like new content.

    The eating disorders chapter was the strongest, I agree. Possibly because it drew on her own experiences, and included quotes and references that (largely) seemed fresh to this book.

  8. I'd say that the second core issue about accurate attribution of quotes (after professionalism/pride) is respect for both interviewees and audience.

    If a quote is not contemporaneous, or the source, context and date explained, then the audience is denied the opportunity to evaluate the person being quoted except through the eyes of the author, and the full context - eg that the quotee may have changed their views since - is hidden.

    One example: in the case of MM the Bindel one attributed to Standpoint in 2009, was actually Bindel quoting herself from a Guardian CIF piece in 2004. So the context of the Bindel quote may have been lost. Is the different context relevant to the argument Penny makes?

    The same point goes for any others.

    In an area such as feminism or trans-gender politics, which changes so quickly over only a couple of years, surely this is critical?

    I agree that presentation as an anthology or collection would have been the correct way to do it. Looking at a few books in my shelves, is it new that people don't attribute the sources of book chapters? That's not one I've met before.

  9. Laurie here. Just to clear up some queries - I wrote Meat Market as part of Zero's series (which also includes Nina Power's 'One Dimensional Woman') of long pamphlet-style books, all of which are collections and extensions of the authors' previous articles and blog posts. I received no money for it (indeed, I haven't had a penny from the book yet). The book contains much fresh material and an overarching critique of the separate issues, but I've always been open that there's old stuff in there - why wouldn't I be? It's not something I'm ashamed of.

    When i wrote the book, I had no idea at all that it would be so widely read. It's a tiny publisher's, I was virtually unknown at the time, it was just a collection of thoughts I'd had and articles I'd written between the ages of 20 and 23. I've been surprised by the response, and obviously reading it now makes me cringe, because there's so much I'd write differently and better. But I don't feel I have anything to apologise for in terms of being honest with readers about my sources and where the writing comes from - I've always been entirely open about that.

    Oh, and I cite the 1988 New internationalist Story article in the back of the book - that's where the quote came from, Ramirez certainly didn't speak to me! I had thought the way the quote was phrased made that obvious. That whole 1988 special issue is actually brilliant and well worth a read. If that citation isn't in there then something's gone wrong with the (admittedly rather shaky) sub-editing process and I'll check it out.

  10. Thanks for commenting, Laurie - I'm pleased you have. Thanks also for your DMs to me on Twitter.

    You say above: "I wrote Meat Market as part of Zero's series of long pamphlet-style books, all of which are collections and extensions of the authors' previous articles and blog posts." However, nowhere in the advertising for your book (on Amazon, on Zer0's site etc) does it say that the content is a collection of extension of previous posts. I asked you about this on Twitter just now and asked you to send me a link to where Zer0 state that their books are collections, and you said: "They don't say so - but that's what most of them are." I don't find this a good enough answer, sorry. As I said to you on Twitter, unless told otherwise I think it is reasonable for a book reader to assume that the copy they are reading is new. If your book (and any others in Zer0's series) are collections of the author's former posts, they need to be clear about this.

    Re the Ramirez quote - no, unfortunately the source for this quote is not included in the references in Meat Market. And the phrasing didn't make it obvious she wasn't speaking to you. You simply precede her quote saying: "Judith Ramirez (JOB TITLE) insists that there is no simply solution to..." Nothing about that implies it is an old quote.

    Also, the book was published this year and the inside says "text copyright 2010", so nothing informs the reader you wrote the book several years ago, as you suggest in your comment.

  11. I think one of the unfortunate side effects of the Johann Hari business is that we've got our standards of attribution and reference a little muddled up; the criticisms above would be within the bounds of expectations for an academic paper in a scientific journal (except those tend to not only not mind, but positively encourage repetition and re-use of previous work), but in my view apply a too-high standard for what is essentially a polemic.

    I doubt if any small polemical book would hold up. Certainly nothing by Germaine Greer could ever be published again.

    In fact I'm reading a book by Lewis Wolpert right now, and it's a science-y book about science-y subjects, but it does not have footnotes and references in every paragraph, or very many at all for that matter. Because it's a popular book, not for a professional audience, and it frankly makes no difference if Eminent Embryologist(tm) Lewis Wolpert had already said half those things in magazine articles or radio interviews. Which he probably has.

    Much in the same way, I think it is neither possible nor desirable to start holding left wing journalists to absolute standards of both originality *and* attribution.

  12. It seems to me that you are making up principles on the basis of which you are entitled to judge Laurie negatively. The chapters in Meat Market are reworkings, to a greater or lesser extent, of pieces some readers, but not most, will have read in blogs -so what? A lot of the people who have bought the book will have read them there and be perfectly content to have them in permanent form. The idea that, if you interviewed someone for a piece, you are debarred from using the same quotations in a reworking of the piece is anohter of these made up principles; if anyone has lied about this, it is Julie and Finn, who have had to backtrack from saying Laurie didn't interview them to saying that she interviewed them for the earlier form of the material, but not the book.

    The Judith Ramirez quote should have been referenced, but this is not the big deal you make it out to be. There is always slippage of this kind even in academic books and the idea that any unreferenced quote is being represented, by that lack of a reference, as part of an interview, is just more self-serving nonsense on your part.

    This is bullying, pure and simple, of somenoe who does good work, and an attempt to destroy someone valuable through cheap smears.

  13. Thanks for your comment rozk. As you'll see in my comments above, my post is not judging Laurie as a person negatively - to reiterate, I don't know her, so am in no position to comment on her a person.

    Julie and Finn have not lied. Both say they spoke to Laurie several years ago for different articles. Both say they had no knowledge they were going to be included in this book. Julie's quotes in particular are preceded with the words 'Bindel, when I spoke to her in the process of writing this book, emphasised …' Julie and Finn are not backtracking or saying they did not speak to Laurie. But both say they did not speak to Laurie for several years, and that they did not know their comments would be re-used in this book.

    I disagree that my blog post is "bullying". I am truthfully pointing out my problem that I had as a buyer, reader and responder to Meat Market. If I had the same problems with anybody else's books, I would call them up on it, too. This is not a personal 'attack' on Laurie. it just happens that I noticed this in her book. It could have been anybody's book I wrote about. And if I notice it in another book by someone else, I will blog about their book, too.

  14. Again, if you give an interview for one purpose, you have no right to expect that it not be used again by the author or anyone else, because that is what being in the public domain means. The idea that Julie and Finn retain any rights over their words is a nonsense. They gave Laurie interviews, and she used those quotes a second time - to claim, as Julie did, that Laurie lied, is itself a lie.

    Given the existence of that lie, to reiterate that lie is to participate in the culture and campaign of bullying of which it was a part and to think that it is not is at best self-deception and at worst disingenuous.

    You are demanding impossibly high standards, and not regarding yourself as accountable to similar ones.

  15. this has been interesting debate to follow, and it is always interesting to see how people respond to books. i really enjoyed the book, as i said, particularly the eating disorders section, although i don't agree with everything in it. i read laurie's blogs on the NS and her own blog pre the NS days so i recognised content and themes, but in some ways it's quite nice to have that - i probably wouldn't go back and re-read the posts but it's useful to have this information collected in a handy format to re-read and refer to in the future.

  16. To rosk: What Julie Bindel tweets or writes anywhere is up to her, and it's not my place to say she is right or wrong. Julie clearly knows better than we do what the situation is between her and Laurie. Yes, she tweeted on Saturday that she thought Laurie was a liar. But I am not calling Laurie a liar (see the bold section in the blog post!) by printing Julie's comments here to inform my blog post. That is a big leap of logic to make.

    As for me "demanding impossibly high standards" - I don't see what's wrong with expecting a book I buy to contain new copy: unless than book is clearly marketed as an anthology/collection/similar. I also don't think it's too much to ask for any book I buy (especially at the cost of £9.99 for 68 pages!!!) to have been properly proofed, subbed and fact-checked.

  17. You mentioned a personal tweet from Julie Bindel so I took it that you were endorsing her position; given the extent to which she has had to backtrack from her original position I don't know why you are even sticking with the argument. Since Laurie Penny has transcripts of the phone interview in 2009, I don't see how Julie Bindel's position can possibly be sustained.

    As to your desire that all books be perfectly edited with every reference in place and no sentence, or paragraph, or chapter, recycled from earlier work - lots of luck with that. Again, you've tried to make the incredibly minor issue of the Ramirez quote into a serious criticism of Laurie Penny's ethics and continue to boast of creating a stink - viz your triumphant tweet of this morning.

    There is the long-standing campaign of sexist bullying, smear and innuendo againg Laurie Penny, which you have enabled by this nit-picking post.

  18. Rosk: "You mentioned a personal tweet from Julie Bindel so I took it that you were endorsing her position." That's extraordinary. People say many things to me in personal tweets, emails, conversation or even comments on my blog... I don't agree with everything people say to me. That's a hilarious claim!! By that logic, I'd be agreeing with what you are saying to me.


    Despite Roz K's desperate attempt to defend LP and to put all the blame on me and Finn, I have never backtracked at all on what I have said (all on record on Twitter) about Penny lying re the interview for her book. "Bindel, when I spoke to her in the process of writing this article" (2009, No Feminism without Transfeminism, F Word).

    On twitter last Saturday:
    Laurie Penny wrote "@bindelj I'm not lying, Julie - I just didn't know at the time that I would be extending that article into a book chapter!"

    In Meat Market: "When I spoke to Bindel during the research for this book..." How was it that in the book Penny says thats when she interviewed me in 2009 it was "during research for this book?" but in defence of her lies on Twitter last Saturday says that she "just didn't know at the time that I would be extending that article into a book chapter"?

    Also, Finn is still saying Penny did not interview her, ever, at any time, whether for the book or an article.

    So, do you get it now? Or should she be allowed to use bully tactics (ner, ner, ner, Bindel is transphobic) to distract from the fact that she regularly makes things up?

  20. Hi all, to clear up any misunderstandings about the interview with Finn, here is the interview, which was conducted early last year via email, pasted in full!


    (Finn wrote this as the email, I have kept everything else the same except for obvious reasons deleting our respective email addresses)

    Fab, here is below some answers. I am only a member of FCAP, so obviously can only speak for myself, just to be clear. Others who join the list may actually have slightly different views, eg we do have some people working in harm minimisation who do want criminalisation of punters eventually but are not sure if it can be done right now.
    Good luck with piece, but remember, you cannot heal the world! It is not your responsibility to bring groups together who are ideologically opposed and where both sides feel they have good reason to be so.

    Finn Fox says, "Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet, and the winds long to play in your hair."

    From: Laurie Penny
    To:Finn Mackay
    Sent:Wed, 10 March, 2010 12:05:28
    Subject: questions!

    Thank you so much Finn. Questions are as follows:

    1.Can you sum up FCAP's position in two lines or so?

    We are campaigning for a Nordic style law which de-criminalises all those in prostitution and instead criminalises the buyers. This would have to be alongside dedicated and weighty investment in BOTH harm minimisation and exit services, public awareness campaigns and the erasing of criminal records for those in prostitution with sex offences for loitering or soliciting etc.

    2.What further changes to the laws on prostitution need to be made?

    I would like to see it made a criminal offence to purchase another human being for sexual purposes, I do not see how such an activity can be tolerated in a supposedly equal society. I don't think a law would make prostitution end, just as rape and murder still exist despite laws against them. But our laws our lines in the sand as a country, and send strong messages to society about what we think is acceptable and what is not. It a symptom of an unequal society that our culture accepts as normal men's presumed right to buy sexual access to women's bodies, we should be challenging rather than condoning that. As above, all those in prostitution should be decriminalised, the great majority are forced by violence, groomed by abusive pasts or coerced by poverty and inequality. Nobody should be criminalised for just trying to survive in an unequal world. Convictions for such related offences should be wiped so they no longer act as a bar to women exiting the industry to seek formal employment. Money should be ring-fenced and dedicated to harm minimisation and exit services, we could save a few pounds by scrapping trident or the ID card scheme for example! Many of those in prostitution have been failed by systems that were supposed to protect them, like social services, police, local authority care, doctors, schools etc. Funding for genuine support now is too late in the day, but it is better late than never and is no less than what all those in prostitution deserve.

  21. (here's the second part) -

    3.What effect does living in a world where women's bodies are for sale have on women who are not prostitutes?

    The fact that it is considered normal and a part of life, like bad weather is part of life, that men want to buy women's bodies in prostitution demeans our whole society. It affects all women and men, including those in prostitution and those using prostitution. The existence of prostitution is founded on the inequality of women, economically, politically, culturally, and so true equality cannot exist while it still does. Only a minority of men use women in prostitution, most men do not, so there is no excuse for those that do. We should no more justify prostitution than rape or murder or child abuse, there is no biological need that makes men use women in prostitution. This is a learned behaviour and culture so it can be unlearned. Equality for women is a farse in a society where it is considered normal for men to buy our bodies, this changes how women see themselves and how men see us, and not in a good way! We can't be free while so many of us are literally for sale. This only furthers our position as sex objects, reinforces the lie that we are only as good as our levels of sexual attractiveness to the opposite sex, that we are only as good as some man thinks we are and that we are always being judged. In this way the existence of prostitution, and more importantly the normalisation and justification of it, affects all women because it reinforces our unequal position and keeps us disempowered.

  22. (...and here's the third! I thought it was a very good interview FWIW. Laurie. xx)

    4.What is your opinion on feminist groups who take a 'pro sex worker' stance - or on 'liberated' prostitutes who call themselves feminists?

    We work alongside many surivors of prostitution and the sex industry. We are not against women involved in prostitution. We are against a system that sacrifices a whole class of people as for sale to the other half of the population and we are against those who justify that and the men who fuel it by exercising their so-called rights to buy other human beings. Many groups are doing important harm minimisation work with people in prostitution and that is vital, I just wish this always went alongside exit services and I wish the funding was there to make that possible. I don't waste my time being 'against' other groups or women, I am more concerned with what we are doing in our group. I don't actually know many women who have survived prostitution who have a good word to say about it, or who would want to go back to it or for any of their loved ones to go into it. Apart from the belle du jour types the media likes to put forward.

    5.Do you think there is any common ground between FCAP's position and people like the ECP - for example, could you ever work together on seeking to get soliciting decriminalised?

    As long as the ECP promote the idea that prostitution is a job like any other and a good way for students, single-mothers, those facing economic problems etc to make money - then I personally think it would be hypocritical to work alongside them. Because to me that is recruiting for prostitution, it is promoting prostitution and as we live in an unequal society many women are poor, but I don't think prostitution is the answer and I wouldn't want to promote prostitution to anyone because I think it harms people, physically and mentally, I think it is dangerous. As long as I believe prostitution is a form of violence against women, literally and politically, then how can I work alongside anyone who promotes it as a job like any other and defines prostitution as consenting sex? The women I know in prostitution did not describe their 'work' as sex, unless the ECP think sex is something women are meant to hate, find disgusting, find physically and emotionally painful, block out with drugs and/or alcohol, necessitate the use of anaesthetic gels to numb pain, all of which causes them trauma, depression, suicidal thoughts and self-harm and which they only do because they need to pay the bills, afford a hot meal, have somewhere to stay for the night, provide money for a pimp etc....


    I don't really see the point of her [reprinting our email conversation] because I in fact said it could have been an e.mail exchange we had a while ago, all I said was that she never interviewed me for her book, which she didn't.

    It really doesn't answer the point. I have had e.mail conversations with her and conversations at conferences etc. I acknowledged all that, the thing I know I didn't do was take part in an interview for her book and if she'd told me things were going to be in a book I may have wanted to know more about the context.

    Anyway, you didn't say anything against her in your blog, just pointing out that she's said she interviewed people for her book when she didn't, which is true. Also, some of those conversations were from quite a while ago, for all she knew Julie B and I could have changed our minds about things or decided we didn't want certain things in a book. Anyway, not that it matters now.

    I remember that e.mail exchange and it was because she told me she was thinking of writing something on prostitution to try and bring the two sides together because she thought we all had a lot more in common than we realised and we could all work together, she did not tell me it was for a book, she told me it was for her blog and it was early last year I think, I can't remember. Then she used it to write that sexual shiboleth article on her blog.

    I'm not denying at all we had that conversation by e.mail, just that she didn't tell me it was going to end up in her book, she told me it was for her blog on an article she wanted to write about prostitution to try and bring the different sides together. And I think it was about a year ago, maybe longer ago than that now, I can't remember. I didn't even know I was mentioned in her book! Nor did I know she was writing one until it appeared.

    In sisterhood


  24. I'm glad I'm not the only person who felt 'meh' about the book. I was struck by how poorly argued it was; Ms Penny had come across as a better writer in her short work. The book came across like somebody's personal musings rather than a coherent treatise, and I was left unsure what the point was.

    That said, I don't perceive it as intrinsically problematic to re-use quotes. I think what's important is referencing, as what a person says in one context may not properly translate to another. Since people change their positions over time there is also a danger of misrepresentation.