Sex is political

Based on real cases, feminist philosopher Amia Srinivasan reflects on the stereotypes that shape our desires and our representations, and what the intersection of dominations does to sexuality. To better imagine the sexual liberation of XXIe century.

What would it take for sex to be truly free?? Critically continuing the feminist tradition that, from Simone de Beauvoir to Adrienne Rich, showed that sex is political, Amia Srinivasan reveals the importance of rethinking this issue today. through six essays that address various political aspects of sexuality—rape accusations, pornography, right to sex, sexual desires, sexual relations between professors and students, prostitution and the treatment of rapists – the author draws the features of a emancipatory sex policy for the XXIe century.

Amia Srinivasan reflects on real cases, taken from legal judgments or press articles, and borrows from the British, American and Indian contexts, like the rape of Jyoti Singh which in 2012 caused a wave of anger and national mourning in India. The author also nourishes her reflection with analyzes of situations experienced in the first person, putting into practice the epistemological contributions of positioning feminism. : it is as a professor of social and political theory at the University of Oxford, born of Indian parents, that she expresses herself, with the strength of her dialogues with her students, who explain to her, for example, how pornography orients their sexual expectations, with her colleagues, who are surprised that the students complain about their looks on their legs, or with his friends, who tell him that on Grindr the photos of torsos are mainly those of Asian men who do not want to show their faces.

The interest of the work lies in the method used by the author: always anchor the reflection in the analysis of real cases; not proposing answers in principle but starting from the situation of the most disadvantaged; take into account the complex way in which the different dominations intersect in the phenomena analyzed and make unjust any policy which assumes that the interests of the dominated necessarily converge; inscribe the reflections in the history of feminist debates by updating them and asking what contextual elements specific to the XXIe century — omnipresence of the internet and social networks, capitalism and the prison state — make sexuality.

Intersectionality as a method

A sex policy can only be truly liberating if it takes seriously the complex relationship that sex (in the sense of sexuality) maintains, not only with sex (in the sense of socially constructed sexual difference), but also with race, class, disability, nationality and caste. Amia Srinivasan embraces intersectionality – according to the expression coined by Kimberl Crenshaw – which she interprets as a practical and theoretical orientation which considers that any liberation movement which focuses only on what the oppressed have in common can only serve the least oppressed. The fruitfulness of this approach is shown in the analysis carried out by Amia Srinivasan, in her first essay, of the case of false accusations of rape. If an approach through the exclusive prism of gender reveals the oversized place that these accusations occupy in the collective imagination (there are many more unrecognized rapes of women than of falsely accused men), it prevents us from seeing that, in most cases, it's about men, not women, accusing other men: prosecutors or police officers wrongly accusing non-white men. Analyzing the phenomenon of false rape accusations solely in terms of gender maintains the racist representation of rapists as black, inseparable from that of the hypersexuality of black women (Davis 1983). Conversely, a reading of the phenomenon solely through the lens of racism reduces to silence women who want to denounce the behavior that men of the same character show towards them. breed what.

Move the problems and ask the right questions

Amia Srinivasan often finds the way in which the political problems of sexuality have been and continue to be formulated unsatisfactory: her remarks are, in this sense, critical. For example, in the third essay of the work, which gave its title to the book, the author studies the case of incels, these communities of men who claim a right to sex and, accusing women of being responsible for their celibacy, advocate violence against them. The usual feminist analysis of these speeches, which refutes the idea of ​​a right to sex and denounces violence and the objectification of women, if it is at all relevant – there is no right to sex (p. 95, we translate), misses part of the problem: it says nothing about the way in which sexual desires are shaped by norms, notably patriarchal and racist. If the fuckability is political, the difficult question that arises is then the following: how to think in a liberating manner about the political character of sexual preferences without denying the autonomy of desiring subjects, that is to say without transforming the politics of sexuality into a business of discipline of desires? By considering the desires of others as sacred but striving to reevaluate our own, trusting the nature of desire which can lead us where we had not imagined, replies Amia Srinivasan.

Analogously, in her fifth essay, devoted to the question of sexual relations between professors and students, Amia Srinivasan demonstrates the need to shift the problem: instead of asking whether consent is possible when there are power differences, it It would be necessary, explains the author, to examine whether sex with female students is compatible with pedagogy. From then on, a new question, with an incisive tone, is posed by the author: how is it that these professors are capable of so many subtleties on subjects like the ethics of torture (a clear-cut answer could have been expected), but content to affirm that sexual relations with female students are legitimate as long as they are consensual? Because philosophy is a discipline dominated by men, recalls Amia Srinivasan. The professor who has sexual relations with a female student therefore commits a double fault: he does not redirect the erotic charge of the pedagogical relationship towards its primary object, knowledge, and he takes advantage of the fact that women are socialized in a patriarchal way which leads us to believe that their value depends on their ability to attract the attention of men.

Examine not just what the law says but what the law does

Amia Srinivasan also shows the extent to which proposing legal responses to the political problems of sexuality is insufficient, even counterproductive. Legislation like the Title Amendment IX in the United States, which seeks to combat sexual violence in higher education, do they really allow us to question the type of sexuality produced by patriarchy?? Above all, are these laws used by universities to protect their students or to protect themselves from legal convictions?? What matters, explains Amia Srinivasan, is not just what the law says but what the law does, particularly to the most vulnerable people. In the case of pornography, the subject of the second essay, it is therefore not only a question of whether or not anti-pornographic legislation contradicts freedom of expression – this is one of the forms that the problem has historically taken in feminist debates in the United States. United, with on one side the idea that such legislation, by basing its judgment on the content of pornographic works, violates the freedom of expression of their authors, and on the other the thesis according to which pornography is not just a discourse, because the eroticization of the subordination of women make it real (MacKinnon 2007). We have to wonder what such laws do to women, according to Amia Srinivasan. However, it appears that they had the consequence of reinforcing the exclusion of certain minority sexual practices (in 2014, the United Kingdom, for example, banned female ejaculation and typical practices of female domination in sexual relations from appearing in pornographic films). BDSM), and above all to worsen the situation of women who depend most on pornography.

The responsibility of feminists

What should feminists do if they had power?? Some feminists have power, replies Amia Srinivasan: mainly rich, white feminists from Western countries, who can participate in the development of public policies or give visibility to denunciation campaigns on social networks. They therefore have responsibilities. In her last essay, the author criticizes what Elizabeth Bernstein calls the prison feminism (2007), which defends the use of coercive power of the state to achieve gender justice. The question remains how to treat rapists, a question often used as a touchstone to denounce the inconsistency of abolitionist feminism (which defends the abolition of all prison measures). It is not enough to propose as a non-carceral solution to sexual violence tools to fight against the economic and political oppressions to which this violence is correlated, replies the author: there is something in patriarchal oppression which is not reducible to this type of oppression. We must seek to transform the social order, not by relying on the coercive power of the state but its social power, which can be exercised through instruments such as guaranteed income or public childcare services, to support the initiatives of poor women seeking to return their safer and fairer communities. A path to prevention, awareness-raising and the fight against sexual violence is thus offered by the democratic and community institutions set up to manage interpersonal violence, like the Indian feminist self-defense group Gulabi Gang.

Throughout the essays, the type of feminist solutions to the political problems of sexuality that Amia Srinivasan defends take shape: they have in common that they require imagination. It is this which must help us resist the way in which pornography shapes our sexual expectations and which must be at the heart of a negative sexual education, that is to say an education which, without saying what sexuality should be, reminds us that this The latter is not just imitation. It is this, too, which should allow us to discipline not our desires, but the voices which tell us from birth which bodies are desirable, explains the author in the fourth essay. If Amia Srinivasan's feminism is contextual and informed by historical debates, it is also utopian: it is only in this condition that it can be truly revolutionary, because a world undoes dominations – and not comforted in its functioning by measures which relieve their most glaring symptoms — is a world still unknown.

The theses defended by Amia Srinivasan are sometimes very clear, such as the need to protect sex workers, to denounce the destructiveness of prison policies, or to criticize professors who use their status to satisfy their own narcissistic needs (by taking, for example , their revenge on their youth, when intellectuality was not valued). But she often also defends more ambivalent theses. It is true that feminism cannot allow itself to believe that interests always converge, that our projects will not have unexpected and undesirable consequences, underlines the author (p. xv, we translate): we understand why a truly liberating sex policy cannot be comfortable. It remains that the features of fminism at 21e century are, in this work, only sketched. The book is thought of as a collection of essays, the author only theorizes about feminism and defends it only when reflecting on concrete cases and in a relatively brief manner. The preface takes the time to summarize the main points, but one could have wished for these theorizations to be more in-depth. We would also have liked to know more about the suggested proposals, for example on ways to achieve negative sexuality education, or to transfigure our sexual desires.