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"We Rarely Want the Things We Should": The Politics of Sexual Desire


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In the London Review of Books, Amia Srinivasan has a nuanced and fascinating piece about how oppression can shape one’s most intimate desires. Cutting through the impasse between “pro-sex” and “anti-sex” feminists, Srinivasan suggests that we shouldn’t hold anyone’s sexual desires against them, even as we must what social systems have shaped these desires. Here’s an excerpt from the piece:

Ellen Willis concludes ‘Lust Horizons’ by saying that for her it is ‘axiomatic that consenting partners have a right to their sexual proclivities, and that authoritarian moralism has no place’ in feminism. And yet, she goes on, ‘a truly radical movement must look … beyond the right to choose, and keep focusing on the fundamental questions. Why do we choose what we choose? What would we choose if we had a real choice?’ This is an extraordinary reversal on Willis’s part, which often goes unnoticed even by those familiar with the contours of the sex wars. After laying out the ethical case for taking our sexual preferences, whatever they may be, as fixed points, protected from moral inquisition, Willis tells us that a ‘truly radical’ feminism would ask precisely the question that gives rise to ‘authoritarian moralism’: what would women’s sexual choices look like if we were not merely ‘negotiating’, but really free? One might feel that Willis has given with one hand and taken away with the other. But really she has given with both. Here, she tells us, is the task of feminism: to treat as axiomatic our free sexual choices, while also seeing why, as MacKinnon has always said, such choices, under patriarchy, are rarely free. What I am suggesting is that, in our rush to do the former, feminists risk forgetting to do the latter.

Image via Salon.