Books & Literature

Book Review: The Right to Sex, by Amia Srinivasan

NON-FICTION: A landmark examination of the politics and ethics of sex in this world, animated by the hope of a different one.

An intelligent, sparkling, and rigorous exploration of the politics of sex

We tend reflexively to see sex as a very personal activity. Yet if we apply the old tenet “the personal is political, and the political is personal,” what could be MORE political than this most intimate of human acts?

Philosopher, writer, and current Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College Oxford, Amia Srinivasan, has put together six discrete yet interrelated essays choosing the third one as the book’s overall title, The Right to Sex.

Within these pages, Srinivasan interrogates such contentious issues as pornography, incels, rape, sex-work, and student-teacher relationships. She allows no hint of coyness to dampen her intellectual rigour, plunging enthusiastically into controversial subject matter. She has a way of explaining the seemingly impenetrable that makes complete sense, without oversimplifying. For example, in the essay The Conspiracy Against Men, she has this to say about intersectionality:

“The central insight of intersectionality is that any liberation movement [including] feminism … that focuses only on what all members of the relevant group … have in common is a movement that will best serve those … who are least oppressed.”

In discussing these aspects of the human sexual landscape, Srinivasan explores concepts of free-speech, carceral solutions, education, legislation, and the spectrum of desire. She expertly navigates the thin channel between question and answer, giving free rein to the reader’s own opinions, yet having no truck with concepts which are clearly rubbish. If there is one particular thread which runs through these essays, it is that the current pathological approach to issues, such as male violence, is a smoke-screen to the larger reconstructive solution that needs to be instigated in order for a true post-feminist society to emerge.

“ … a feminist politics which sees the punishment of bad men as its primary purpose will never be a feminism that liberates all women, for it obscures what makes most women unfree.”

The Right to Sex is sharply written, engrossing, thought-provoking, wise, witty, and above all, humane. It is also highly readable, avoiding academic impenetrability, whilst remaining rigorous.

Srinivasan will surely go on to join the pantheon of feminist philosophy greats.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Bloomsbury
Released: 31 August 2021
RRP: $29.99

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