Vexy Thing

On Gender and Liberation

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 1 illustration Published: September 2018

Author: Imani Perry

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, American Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Feminist Theory

Even as feminism has become increasingly central to our ideas about institutions, relationships, and everyday life, the term used to diagnose the problem—“patriarchy”—is used so loosely that it has lost its meaning. In Vexy Thing Imani Perry resurrects patriarchy as a target of critique, recentering it to contemporary discussions of feminism through a social and literary analysis of cultural artifacts from the Enlightenment to the present. Drawing on a rich array of sources—from nineteenth-century slavery court cases and historical vignettes to writings by Toni Morrison and Audre Lorde and art by Kara Walker and Wangechi Mutu—Perry shows how the figure of the patriarch emerged as part and parcel of modernity, the nation-state, the Industrial Revolution, and globalization. She also outlines how digital media and technology, neoliberalism, and the security state continue to prop up patriarchy. By exploring the past and present of patriarchy in the world we have inherited and are building for the future, Perry exposes its mechanisms of domination as a necessary precursor to dismantling it.


"Vexy Thing recontextualizes feminism and patriarchy in an era when both terms have been systemically emptied by market forces; she reminds us that the patriarch is an institutional concept and reminds us of its insidiousness in our everyday life through a devastatingly sharp historical critique, necessarily centering black women as the locus of her conversation." — Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, Jezebel

"Using historical examples, narrative vignettes, and meditative interludes, Perry pushes the conventions of academic writing in part to advocate for feminism as critical reading practice rather than doctrine. . . . [She] invite[s] the reader to consider patriarchy not as a parallel structure repeating itself across cultures but rather an iterative and changeable force constituted through its interactions with race, empire, geographic location, and other intersections. Highly recommended. Advanced undergraduates and above." — S. L. Vandermeade, Choice

"Perry presents a feminist reading praxis that examines history, theory and academic scholarship to provide the basis for understanding how patriarchy informs our individual and collective selves. This book should be on the shelf of any graduate student working in the fields of feminist scholarship and critical race theory." — Katelan Dunn, LSE Review of Books

"What is patriarchy? This question is at the heart of Vexy Thing, but Perry does more than define patriarchy. She names it, identifies it, locates its global reach, examines its historical construction, and explores its present-day impact. Vexy Thing does a lot and in a good way. It is a capacious work of black feminist theory that works through patriarchy’s violence to imagine personhood, livability, and a more just world." — Annette Joseph-Gabriel, Public Books

"Vexy Thing is a sophisticated mapping of patriarchy from the Enlightenment to the present." — Natasha Behl, Politics & Gender

"Vexy Thing is an immense scholarly undertaking, reviewing theory and research spanning multiple disciplines. It is also a call for the reader—students, scholars, theorists, activists—to challenge the patriarchal doctrines built into our own lives and to bring the voices of those on the margins to the center." — Wendy M. Christensen, Ethnic and Racial Studies

"Perry’s argument about what she calls 'the architecture of patriarchy' (57) in modernity is impressive in its scope and detail." — Lisa Diedrich, American Literature

“This is the sort of book that initially draws you in with its witty title and beautiful cover (despite attempts not to judge a book…). I soon found myself recommending it to everyone I met even before I had even reached the end. Its breadth and scope [are] breathtaking. It spirals out in all directions and the content encompasses film, literature, historical documents, philosophy and policy…. I would argue that reading this book is as good a start as any for developing a new feminist praxis.” — Rosie Buckland, Women's Studies International Forum

"Vexy Thing is not just a timely history lesson. In this text we are shown how to read as liberation feminists who take seriously the task of tracing patriarchy as a foundational architecture of gender domination, while imagining and enacting the possibilities of engendered freedom. Through the stylistic strategies of vignette, story, description, theorization, and analysis, Perry forces us to shift our praxis and to ‘read through the layers of gender forms of domination’…. [W]hen reading Vexy Thing, one would do well to give herself ample time and room to delight in the experience." — LeRhonda S. Manigault-Bryant, Journal of American History

“Imani Perry’s Vexy Thing is a strong and confidently argued statement for a kind of feminism that attends in new ways to how logics of gender domination are part of wider logics of domination—how regimes of gender must be considered under a lens that also makes visible austerity and neoliberalism, hypermedia and the security state. Vexy Thing expands our notions of what a feminist critic can do while giving the reader a real sense of an important intellectual at work.” — Sara Ahmed, author of Living a Feminist Life

“Given the political turn in the United States in November of 2016, Imani Perry’s Vexy Thing will become a central text for those involved in discussions of that thing called ‘the patriarchy.’ By thinking of patriarchy as a single phenomenon across different registers, Perry guides readers into their own sense of its stronghold on American, if not global, iterations of self and other, state and nation. This is a powerful statement about feminism for the here and now.” — Sharon Patricia Holland, author of The Erotic Life of Racism


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Price: $27.95

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Imani Perry is Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of Prophets of the Hood: Politics and Poetics in Hip Hop, also published by Duke University Press, and More Beautiful and More Terrible: The Embrace and Transcendence of Racial Inequality in the United States.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  ix
Introduction  1
1. Seafaring, Sovereignty, and the Self: Of Patriarchy and the Conditions of Modernity  14
2. Producing Personhood: The Rise of Capitalism and the Western Subject  42
Interlude 1. How Did We Get Here? Nobody's Supposed to Be Here  86
3. In the Ether: Neoliberalism and Entrepreneurial Woman  98
4. Simulacra Child: Hypermedia and the Mediated Subject  129
5. Sticks Broken at the River: The Security State and the Violence of Manhood  151
Interlude 2. Returning to the Witches  171
6. Unmaking the Territory and Remapping the Landscape  177
7. The Utterance of My Name: Invitation and the Disorder of Desire  199
8. The Vicar of Liberation  226
Notes  255
Bibliography  273
Index  283
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