Laura Kipnis

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Laura Kipnis at the New York State Writers Institute, 2015.

Laura Kipnis is an American cultural critic and essayist. Her work focuses on sexual politics, gender issues, aesthetics, popular culture, and pornography. She began her career as a video artist, exploring similar themes in the form of video essays.[1] She is professor of media studies at Northwestern University in the Department of Radio-TV-Film, where she teaches filmmaking. In recent years she has become known for debating sexual harassment and free speech policies in higher education.


Kipnis was born in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the San Francisco Art Institute and a Master of Fine Arts from Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She also studied at the Whitney Museum Independent Study Studio Program. She has received fellowships for her work from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Michigan Society of Fellows,[2] and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has been assistant professor, associate professor, and is now full professor at Northwestern University. She taught previously at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and as a visiting professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, New York University, Columbia University School of the Arts, and the University of British Columbia.


In her 2003 book Against Love: A Polemic, a "ragingly witty yet contemplative look at the discontents of domestic and erotic relationships, Kipnis combines portions of the slashing sexual contrarianism of Mailer, the scathing antidomestic wit of early Roseanne Barr and the coolly analytical aesthetics of early Sontag."[3]

In 2010 she published How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior, which focused on scandal, including those of Eliot Spitzer, Linda Tripp, James Frey, Sol Wachtler, and Lisa Nowak; the book examined "the elaborate ways those transgressors reassure themselves that they are not bringing colossal ruin upon themselves, that their dalliances will never see the light of day".[4] "What allows for scandal in Kipnis's schema is every individual's blind spot, "a little existential joke on humankind (or in some cases, a ticking time bomb) nestled at the core of every lonely consciousness...Ostensibly about scandal, her book is most memorable as a convincing case for the ultimate unknowability of the self".[5]

Her essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Harper's, Playboy, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, The Guardian, and Bookforum.

Writings about sexual harassment policies[edit]

In March 2015, after Northwestern University professor Peter Ludlow had been accused of sexual harassment, Kipnis wrote an essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education in which she decried "sexual paranoia" on campuses and discussed professor-student sexual relationships and trigger warnings.[6] The essay was later included in the Best American Essays of 2016, edited by Jonathan Franzen.[7]

A group of students at Northwestern protested Kipnis's piece, demanding that the administration reaffirm its commitment to the sexual harassment policies that Kipnis criticized.[8] In an opinion column for The Wall Street Journal, Northwestern University president Morton O. Schapiro referred to the protest and argued for maximum speech in such conflicted situations.[9] Two students "took issue with the piece, saying Kipnis was describing a real-life scenario and that her facts were off. They accused Kipnis of retaliatory behavior and creating a hostile environment". They filed a complaint with Northwestern's Title IX office, arguing that her essay had a "chilling effect" on students' ability to report sexual harassment. The school opened an investigation into the case.[10] Kipnis discussed the charges and details of the investigation of those complaints in an essay titled "My Title IX Inquisition," noting that her faculty support person had also been brought up on Title IX complaints over public statements about her case. Northwestern eventually exonerated her.[11] Title IX complaints were also filed against Northwestern's President Schapiro over his Wall Street Journal column.[12]

Kipnis's 2017 book, Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus discusses the Ludlow case and argues that sexual harassment policies do not empower women but rather impede the fight for gender equality.[13] One of the students who had brought the Title IX complaints against Ludlow initiated a lawsuit naming Kipnis and her publisher, HarperCollins, alleging invasion of privacy and defamation.[14] Kipnis has publicly stated, "In case there’s any confusion, Unwanted Advances remains in print and I stand by everything in the book."[15] Unwanted Advances was named one of the Wall Street Journal's ten best non-fiction books of 2017[16]. Jennifer Senior wrote in the New York Times, “Few people have taken on the excesses of university culture with the brio that Kipnis has. Her anger gives her argument the energy of a live cable.”[17]

In addition to speaking on college campuses around the country about issues related to feminism, free speech, #MeToo, campus sexual politics, and gender equity, in 2017 Kipnis participated in a New York Times Magazine roundtable on the subject of "Work, Fairness, Sex and Ambition" together with Anita Hill and Soledad O’Brien. Kipnis said:

Here’s a historical and political way of looking at the current moment. There have been, roughly speaking, two divergent tendencies in the struggle for women’s rights that come together in the issue of workplace harassment, which is why I think this all seems so significant. If you look at the history of feminism, going back to the 19th century, you’ve got, on the one hand, the struggle for what I’d call civic rights: the right to employment, the right to vote, to enter politics and public life. On the other side, there’s the struggle for women to have autonomy over our own bodies, meaning access to birth control, activism around rape, outlawing marital rape, and the fight for abortion rights. What we’re seeing now is the incomplete successes in both of these areas converging. We’ve never entirely attained civic equality. We’ve never entirely attained autonomy over our bodies. Which is why the right not to be sexually harassed in the workplace is the next important frontier in equality for women.[18]

New York Review of Books controversy[edit]

Kipnis wrote, in a New York Times opinion piece "The Perils of Publishing in a #MeToo Moment" protesting the Books' firing of editor Ian Buruma: "One consequence of Mr. Buruma’s departure will be a new layer of safeguards we won’t even know are in place, including safeguards from the sort of intellectual risks The New York Review of Books always stood for."[19]

Select bibliography[edit]


  • Ecstasy Unlimited: On Sex, Capital, Gender, and Aesthetics (Minneapolis, Minn.: University Of Minnesota Press, 1993)
  • Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (New York: Grove Press, 1996)
  • Against Love: A Polemic (New York: Pantheon Books, 2003)
  • The Female Thing: Dirt, Sex, Envy, Vulnerability (New York: Pantheon Books, 2006)
  • How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010)
  • Men: Notes from an Ongoing Investigation (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014)
  • Unwanted Advances: Sexual Paranoia Comes to Campus (New York: HarperCollins, April 2017)



  • "Girl, Interrupted". Village Voice. 16 March 1999.
  • "Lust and Disgust: A Short History of Prudery, Feminist and Otherwise". Harper's Magazine. 315 (1, 888): 87–91. September 2007.
  • "School for Scandal: The Larger Meaning of the Sordid Little Tale". Harper's Magazine. 318 (1, 906): 73–77. March 2009.
  • "Pushing The Limits: Why Is Contemporary Art Addicted to Violence?". New York Times Book Review. 14 July 2011. p. 1.
  • "Amazing Disgrace". Bookforum. September–November 2011.
  • "I Mean It". New York Times Book Review. 12 August 2012. p. 17.
  • "Death by Self-Parody". Bookforum. December 2011 – January 2012.
  • "Crazy in Love". Bookforum. April–May 2013.
  • "Me, Myself, and Id: The Invention of the Narcissist". Harper's Magazine. 329 (1, 971): 76–81. August 2014.
  • "Marry by 30". Slate. 9 April 2015.
  • "Screw Wisdom". The Atlantic. Vol. 319 no. 5. Washington, D.C.: Atlantic Media, Inc. June 2017. pp. 31–33.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Publisher's Weekly (30 June 2003).
  4. ^ McCarthy, Ellen (26 September 2010). "Laura Kipnis's "How to Become a Scandal"". Washington Post.
  5. ^ Susan Dominus (September 24, 2010). "They Did What?". New York Times.
  6. ^ Kipnis, 27 February 2015
  7. ^ Franzen, Jonathan; Atwan, Robert (2016-10-04). The Best American Essays 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780544812178.
  8. ^ Goldberg, 16 March 2015
  9. ^ Morton, 18 March 2015
  10. ^ Kingkade, Tyler. "How Laura Kipnis' 'Sexual Paranoia' Essay Caused a Frenzy at Northwestern University", Huffington Post, June 1, 2015, accessed May 2, 2017
  11. ^ Read, Brock (31 May 2015). "Laura Kipnis Is Cleared of Wrongdoing in Title IX Complaints". Chronicle of Higher Education.
  12. ^ Wilson, Robin (4 June 2015). "For Northwestern, the Kipnis Case Is Painful and Personal". Chronicle of Higher Education.
  13. ^ Cooke, Rachel (2 April 2017). "Sexual paranoia on campus – and the professor at the eye of the storm". The Observer.
  14. ^ Rhodes, Dawn. "Northwestern student sues prof Laura Kipnis over Unwanted Advances book", The Chicago Tribune, May 17, 2017
  15. ^ "Doe v. Kipnis, HarperCollins has settled". Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  16. ^ "The Best Fiction and Nonfiction of 2017". WSJ. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  17. ^ Senior, Jennifer (2017-04-05). "'Unwanted Advances' Tackles Sexual Politics in Academia". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  18. ^ Magazine, The New York Times (2017-12-12). "The Conversation: Seven Women Discuss Work, Fairness, Sex and Ambition". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.
  19. ^ Kipnis, Laura (2018-09-25). "Opinion | The Perils of Publishing in a #MeToo Moment". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-07-14.


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