So this is a book that explicitly addresses intersectionality, even if Srinivasan is not satisfied with the common – and reductive – understanding of the term. Paying attention to the difference isn’t enough, she says. For a book by a philosopher who argues in favor of theory, “The Right to Sex” keeps coming back to the reality of lived experience. Srinivasan puts the most vulnerable at the center of his analysis, insisting that any action should be judged by its effect on them. She quotes black lesbian feminists from the Combahee River Collective, whose 1977 manifesto clearly stated that the end does not always justify the means: “We don’t want to disturb people in the name of politics.
When it comes to politics, radicalism and pragmatism may seem like the complete opposite, but Srinivasan challenges us to see how they are to be connected. Radicalism without pragmatism can be coercive; pragmatism without radicalism can be complacent. She tries to reconcile the two – not by settling into a light-hearted centrism, but by suggesting that in the worthy need to respect individual differences and decisions, feminism cannot lose sight of the larger structures of subordination. .
Srinivasan wrote a compassionate book. She also wrote a challenge. She describes how her students surprise her with their receptiveness to the arguments of second wave anti-pornography feminists, such as Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. What might have sounded moralistic and panicked in the ’70s and’ 80s seems more ‘premonitory’ now, Srinivasan says, with the proliferation of free internet pornography that has become an inextricable part of a coming-of-age. young generation. .
Srinivasan doesn’t quite approve of anti-porn feminism – with its derision of pleasure and contempt for sex work – but she finds something useful in her critique. On free porn sites, desires are driven by online algorithms, getting more and more extreme (more holes, more participants) in one sense, while becoming more conformist (invariably shaped by big business) in another.
Some anti-porn feminists have placed their hopes in legislation, but Srinivasan asks if the brute force of law would be effective in the much less desirable Internet age. Against the power of the algorithm is the power of education – not the one that simply dispenses rules, vainly trying to counter porn images with sane programs.
Instead, Srinivasan offers the kind of education adopted in this brilliant and rigorous book. It takes our imaginations out of the worn out furrows of the existing order. She does not teach lessons from above but encourages us to think alongside her, even (or especially) when it makes us uncomfortable. “These essays do not offer a home,” she writes. “But I hope they will provide, for some, a place of recognition.”