Women: are we fundamentally strong or weak? Virgin or whore? Dirty or clean? In her latest book, The Female Thing (Pantheon), Laura Kipnis tries to nail down the crippling ambivalence she argues is born of all these mixed messages. In four slim chapters on "envy," "sex," "dirt," and "vulnerability" she mines a broad range of material, from radical feminist takes on rape to a mother lode of pop-culture inanities (Brazilian waxing, Caitlin Flanagan), to produce another volume of provocative cultural criticism. It's not as explosive as her previous book, Against Love, a dive-bomb attack on bourgeois conventions of sex and fidelity. Here she's just flexing her rhetorical muscles. But as ever her tone is fearless and polemical. She's rarely afraid to go out on a limb, no matter how shaky, and though that sometimes threatens the logic of her writing, it makes her a reliably entertaining public speaker. a Wed 10/18, 7:30 PM, Women & Children First, 5233 N. Clark, 773-769-9299.