Mari Ruti combines theoretical reflection, cultural critique, feminist politics, and personal experience to analyze the prevalence of bad feelings in contemporary everyday life. Proceeding from a playful engagement with Freud’s idea of penis envy, Ruti’s autotheoretical commentary fans out to a broader consideration of neoliberal pragmatism. She focuses on the emphasis on good performance, high productivity, constant self-improvement, and relentless cheerfulness that characterizes present-day Western society. Revealing the treacherousness of our fantasies of the good life, particularly the idea that our efforts will eventually be rewarded—that things will eventually get better—Ruti demystifies the false hope that often causes us to tolerate an unbearable present.
Theoretically rigorous and lucidly written, Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings is a trenchant critique of contemporary gender relations. Refuting the idea that we live in a postfeminist world where gender inequalities have been transcended, Ruti describes how neoliberal heteropatriarchy has transformed itself in subtle and stealthy, and therefore all the more insidious, ways. Mobilizing Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics, Jacques Lacan’s account of desire, and Lauren Berlant’s notion of cruel optimism, she analyzes the rationalization of intimacy, the persistence of gender stereotypes, and the pornification of heterosexual culture. Ruti shines a spotlight on the depression, anxiety, frustration, and disenchantment that frequently lie beneath our society’s sugarcoated mythologies of self-fulfillment, romantic satisfaction, and professional success, speaking to all who are concerned about the emotional costs of the pressure-cooker ethos of our age.
I returned to university as an adult to audit a course by Mari Ruti, as I have long been a fan of her writing. This book returns me to the joys of being her student, of hearing her lecture, of her lucid and lively intelligence which is grounded in lived experience and is open and probing in its analysis. I always left her classes with a renewed and expansive feeling about life and the human situation, and this book gives me the same feelings of liberty, outrage, excitement, and possibility.
Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?
Mari Ruti is a treasure—equal parts learned, generous, and wise. Whether diagnosing and naming American culture’s ‘gender obsession disorder’ or unpacking its absurd fixation on marriage, she puts the unspoken ailments of our everyday into words, and brings us that much closer to finding a cure.
Kate Bolick, New York Times bestselling author of Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own
Mari Ruti's Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings is truly a unique book. Seamlessly weaving important concerns from recent queer and feminist theory into a quasi-autobiographical, quasi-polemical fabric, it addresses crucial issues that permeate our daily lives in the twenty-first century. Ruti's book moves from the large-scale to the intimate and back again, engaging both Western societies in general and specific instances of discomfort within their confines.
Gail M. Newman, Williams College
Mari Ruti’s Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings brings the reader into an intimate conversation with its author, eliciting outright laughter, deep compassion, even heartbreak, and many wincing nods of oh yeah, #MeToo recognition. Fueled by a spirited appreciation of bad feelings and an affirming love of Lacan and language, Ruti deftly turns penis envy on its head into a feisty, feminist source of political agency.
Jill Gentile, author of Feminine Law: Freud, Free Speech, and the Voice of Desire
Through an intimate portrait of Mari Ruti’s emotional landscape we encounter the phallic predicaments of everyday life. Why the penis, we may ask? This book moves through psychoanalytic theory like fire in grass. Her ethical hope is that in taking on the full range of bad feelings, we may finally know what can be enough!
Jamieson Webster, author of The Life and Death of Psychoanalysis
Ruti offers lived experiences as well as cogent readings of Sigmund Freud, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan, to make her case for how feelings of inadequacy are culturally reproduced, rather than biologically determined. . . .[Penis Envy and Other Bad Feelings] invites discussion among men and women, the repressed and the celebrated, as a way of correcting fetishistic acceptance of phallic primacy.
This is a gutsy, original foray into feminist theory, at once memoirish, polemical and even self-helpful, just the book for anyone up for an intellectual bone to gnaw on.
Sarah Murdoch, The Toronto Star
[Ruti] rescues penis envy from Freud's ludicrous literalism and feminism's merry spoofing. Readers versed in critical theory, a field renowned for its obscurantist prose, will find her book remarkably lucid.
Carol Tavris, Times Literary Supplement
Ruti’s Penis Envy might resonate particularly with young women who are caught up in the groundswell of the #metoo movement, and also set somewhat adrift by it.
Ronjaunee Chatterjee, ASAP/J
Ruti interweaves theoretical insight, cultural critique, feminist politics, and personal experience to lift the lid on the prevalence of bad feelings in contemporary everyday life. Emanating from a playful engagement with Freud’s idea of penis envy, Ruti’s autotheoretical commentary fans out to a broader consideration of neoliberal pragmatism.
About the Author:
Mari Ruti is Distinguished Professor of Critical Theory and of Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Toronto. She is the author of many books, including The Summons of Love (2011); The Call of Character: Living a Life Worth Living (2013); and The Ethics of Opting Out: Queer Theory’s Defiant Subjects (2017), all published by Columbia University Press.