Laura Kipnis

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Laura Kipnis at National Central University, Taiwan, Sex Center in 2017

Laura Kipnis (born 1956[1]) 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.[2] 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 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,[3] and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has been assistant professor, associate professor, and is now full professor at Northwestern University.


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."[4]

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".[5] "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".[6]

Her essays and reviews have appeared in Slate, Harper's, Playboy, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, The Atlantic, 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.[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 and 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, and alleging invasion of privacy, defamation, and other charges relating to the book.[14]

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. ^ Peter Brooker, Modernism/Postmodernism, Routledge, 2014, first published 1992, p. 250
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ Publisher's Weekly (30 June 2003).
  5. ^ McCarthy, Ellen (26 September 2010). "Laura Kipnis's "How to Become a Scandal"". Washington Post.
  6. ^ Susan Dominus (September 24, 2010). "They Did What?". New York Times.
  7. ^ Kipnis, 27 February 2015
  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


External links[edit]