Unspeakable Cover
Unspeakable: A feminist ethic of speech (Paperback)

by Betty McLellan

Key subjects: freedom of speech, feminism, ethics, feminist ethics.

Price: $AUS 34.95




Paperback: 274 pages
Publisher: OtherWise Publications (February 2010)
Language: English
ISBN: 978-0-646-51778-0
Dimensions: 227 x 150mm


This is a book about speech and the silencing of speech; about who gets to speak and who does not; about who is listened to and who is ignored. In this down-to-earth analysis of the democratic principle of freedom of speech, Betty McLellan insists that, if this prized democratic principle is to have any continuing credibility, free speech must be free for all.

Written from the perspective of feminist ethics, Unspeakable focuses on how women are silenced in every nation on earth: through violence, subordination and exclusion. The author’s hope is that radical feminism will continue to be a “feminism of dissent” and that radical, political feminists will continue speaking against the silence.


Be assured that Betty McLellan has not been silenced by the dynamics and forces she describes so cogently in this rethinking of the last — what is it?– nearly forty years of women moving. Recasting debates old and new through the lens of ethics, she marches straight into many a dreary and painful corner, illuminating in the process a true arc of women speaking out against subordination. Anyone who may have wondered where the women’s movement went need look no further. Treasure this undying, undaunted voice.

Catharine A. MacKinnon
– Elizabeth A. Long Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School






One: Free Speech

Two: Fair Speech


Three: Silencing Women’s Voices

Four: Silencing Dissenting Voices

Five: Women Silencing Women


Six: Speaking the Unspeakable

Seven: Feminist Speech in the Twenty-first Century



More detailed contents

About the author

Betty McLellanBetty McLellan is a feminist ethicist, author, psychotherapist and committed activist of long standing. With a focus on both the personal and political, she successfully combines her work as a psychotherapist with a broader emphasis on feminist ethical analysis and activism. A founding member of the Coalition for a Feminist Agenda, Betty is the facilitator of the f-agenda email discussion list.
Her previous books include Overcoming Anxiety (Allen & Unwin, 1992), Beyond Psychoppression: A Feminist Alternative Therapy (Spinifex Press, 1995) and Help! I’m Living with a Man Boy (Spinifex Press, 1999/2006) now translated into thirteen languages.

More detailed contents

Introduction: ‘Speech’ in feminist literature; Feminist ethics; Current debates in feminist ethics; Definitions of feminism; Silencing of women through violence, subordination and exclusion.

1. Free Speech: Mainstream arguments for free speech – Truth and Self-Determination; Feminist argument for free speech – Equality; Free speech and democracy; Free speech and power.

2. Fair Speech: Feminist theory of equality calls for Fair Speech rather than Free Speech (explores the work of Catharine MacKinnon, Andrea Dworkin and Rae Langton); Pornography, touted as a ‘free speech’ issue, subordinates and silences women.

3. Silencing Women’s Voices: Tactics of silencing used against women: violence and threats of violence (against heterosexual women; against lesbians); fundamentalism; prostitution; pornography; exclusion from power; poverty; language of the market; neoliberalism.

4. Silencing Dissenting Voices: The power elite’s use of propaganda, fear, language, lies and deceit to silence all dissenters; Targeting NGOs, Trade Unions, popular social movements (this chapter draws heavily on the work of Noam Chomsky).

5. Women Silencing Women: Women, including feminists, silence other women; Silencing of lesbians and radical feminists; Silencing of Indigenous women and women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.

6. Speaking the Unspeakable: The determination of radical, political feminists to continue to speak out; Ethical implications of continuing to speak.

7. Feminist Speech in the Twenty-first Century: Non-Western settings; Theories about the status of feminism in Western settings – Backlash, Abeyance, Underground operations, Diaspora, Virtual space; Feminist speech into the future – total engagement, appraisal and reflection, protest, action.

The goal of feminist ethics is the transformation of societies and situations where women are harmed through violence, subordination and exclusion. When such injustices are evident now and in the future, radical feminist activists will continue their work of protest and action following careful appraisal and reflection” (p. 240).