5 embarrassing truths every modern feminist faces today
Amia Srinivasan enjoyed her well-deserved moment in the sun. In 2018, the philosopher and author wrote an essay for the Book review in London, entitled ‘Does anyone have the right to have sex? ‘ which resonated with readers young and old alike around the world. A well-meaning publisher suggested that he develop it into a book, and Srinivasan generously complied, giving readers The right to sex (Bloomsbury India), a collection of six essays that presents the study of sex as a political phenomenon. In her debut book, the 36-year-old tackles controversial topics such as consent, pornography, sexual positivity, student-teacher relationships and the proliferation of incel camp with seasoned delicacy.
Born to Indian parents in Bahrain, Srinivasan grew up in Taiwan, New Jersey, New York, Singapore and finally London, where she currently teaches social and political theory at the University of Oxford. Her interest in feminism was sparked after graduating from Yale for the first time, when a friend offered her the widely acclaimed book by Simone de Beauvoir. The second sex. In a fitting example of life coming full circle, right now Srinivasan is also teaching an undergraduate course in feminist theory. Below, the first-time author designs a manifesto outlining the bewildering truths every feminist must come to terms with:
Feminism that only cares about what all women have in common will never care about all women
#MeToo was a powerful rallying cry as almost every woman who worked or walked the streets has experienced sexual harassment. Yet for many women, sexual harassment is not the worst thing in their life. For poor and âlower casteâ women in particular, sexual harassment and violence are only part of their misery. A feminism that cares more than middle-class women, that is, a feminism that really cares all women â must, paradoxically, be a feminism that doesn’t just focus on what all women have in common. It must be a feminism that focuses on factors like poverty and caste that devastate the lives of disadvantaged women.
Consent is important, but it’s also a blunt tool
Feminists need to stress the importance of sexual consent, especially when it comes to fighting male sexual rights. At the same time, it is important to realize that consent is not the only condition for morally permissible sex. Take, for example, the widespread practice of male teachers sleeping with their female students. Very often, such relationships are consensual, and to say the opposite risks infantilizing young women and denying their free will. At the same time, this practice systematically deprives female students of the benefits of education, as it is the teacher’s duty to take the strong emotions aroused in the classroom and direct them to the benefit of the students in acquiring knowledge. The professor who instead redirects a student’s desire back to himself, using them for his own selfish and sexual gratification, fails his student as a teacher. This is just one example of a consensual but nonetheless problematic form of sex. In order to be able to reflect on such cases, we need to go beyond desire and non-desire, yes and no, and rethink sex as a political entity.
Police and prisons are not the answer
It’s easy to conclude that men should be punished for their crimes against women, but more often than not, the police and prisons do not solve women’s problems. Feminists need to address the underlying realities that make women vulnerable to violence, especially in the home, realities that are often obscured by the call for punishment. All over the world, male unemployment is correlated with domestic violence. In addition, poverty, low wages and the lack of free child care facilities prevent many women from leaving the men who abuse them. If we really cared about the safety of women, the first thing we would do would be to address the deep material inequalities that make oppressed women most vulnerable.
Some feminists are very powerful
Feminism as a movement arises from the imbalance of power between men and women. But in recent times, some feminists have gained unbridled power. This is the case, for example, of feminists who have helped shape the goals of global NGOs and the treatment of women in national and international law. This is true for self-proclaimed feminists who have inserted themselves into existing power systems as political leaders and CEOs of companies. And this is increasingly true of feminists who, through social media, have been able to draw public attention to the behavior of sexually abusive men. Meanwhile, poor women are, in many ways, poorer than ever before. In this sense, feminism has reproduced within itself the inequalities of the world. Women who have power should recognize that power and what they have done with it. Have they used it to challenge the structures that impoverish most women? Or have they, intentionally or not, used it to reinforce the status quo and secure a place in it?
There are few easy answers
How to fight against male sexual rights and violence? Creating more laws, enlisting more cops in the force, and building more prisons will not work. But we know that sexual violence is not reducible to economic inequality either. What should we do about pornography? It not only plays an increasingly important role in shaping the imagination and sexual expectations of young people, but also provides a clear path to misogynistic conformism. And yet, attempts to legislate against pornography are both ineffective (the internet cannot be so easily contained) and also harm the livelihoods of women working in pornography, who often depend on this money to survive. How should we think about the politics of sexual desire? There is no âright to sexâ – and yet we also know that who is wanted and who is not is in part the product of our politics. In all of these cases and more, there are no easy answers. It is the task of feminists to linger in ambiguity and complexity, and then collectively pave the way forward.
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