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.