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.