Book review: The Right To Sex by Amia Srinivasan is a must-read

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Amia Srinivasan trots out six essays on gender and sex of the highest quality in The Right To Sex.

The Right To Sex

By Amia Srinivasan
Non-fiction/Bloomsbury/Paperback/268 pages/$32.95/Available here
5 out of 5

The direct, attention-grabbing title – which turns out to be much more complicated than it first appears – sets the tone for this necessary treatise of the modern age.

Oxford professor Amia Srinivasan trots out six essays on gender and sex of the highest quality – each one a joy to read and informed by the latest ideas.

From the dangers of pornography to interracial dating, she manages to capture in easy- flowing and concise prose the issues of the day.

Her fearlessness in engaging with touchy topics, usually avoided by progressives – including whether all people, no matter their sexuality, have a duty to examine whom they sleep with – makes her voice a real standout in a time of popular reckoning for gender relations not seen since the 1960s and 1970s.

From the outset, it is clear that she does not wish to only preach to the choir and is intent on persuading those who disagree.

Her first essay, The Conspiracy Against Men, begins with what looks like an affirmation of the fears of men paranoid about being falsely accused of rape in an #IBelieveHer climate.

In another essay, On Not Sleeping With Your Students, she writes: “The differences here, between the infatuation a student has for her professor, and the infatuation anyone has for anyone else, are a matter of degree, not kind.

“(The) question, as Freud shows us, isn’t whether ‘real’ romantic love is possible in the pedagogical context, but whether real teaching is.”

These are dangerous statements to make in the era of social media, where sentences are often shorn of their contexts. At one point in an essay, she has to take the time to respond to a Twitter user.

But follow her arguments to their not always definitive conclusions and it is clear that Srinivasan is not stoking controversy for its own sake.

She engages with conflicting evidence, ambiguities that cannot be easily resolved and then asks how these can be better reconciled and used to shore up ethical beliefs.

She asks: Should gay people be accepted only if sexuality is innate or should it also be legitimate if it is a considered choice? Are sexual preferences even ever innate, if they must be conditioned or are created by the politics of race, class and gender?

Ultimately, The Right To Sex is a critique of the system that does not exonerate individuals of their duty to override their impulses.

It examines instances of a simple claim – some feel entitled to sex, others are oppressed by it – and asks how one can attempt to reduce this power disparity without ending up hurting those who are already at the bottom of the hierarchy. Everyone should read it.

If you like this, read: Of Woman Born (W.W. Norton & Co, 1976, reissued 2021, $26.95, available here). Poet and feminist Adrienne Rich draws on her own experiences to examine how motherhood is defined by patriarchal systems and political institutions.

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