Gili Kliger in Public Books:
When the philosopher Amia Srinivasan’s essay “The Right to Sex” appeared in the London Review of Books, in 2018, it garnered a level of attention not usually paid to writing by academics. From the provocative title to the bracing clarity of the content (“Sex is not a sandwich,” Srinivasan wrote), the essay’s stylistic appeal was matched by a willingness to entertain positions that had long been off the table in both feminist and mainstream discussions of sex. The piece responded to the commentary surrounding Elliot Rodger, perhaps the most famous of the so-called incels, or involuntary celibates, who in 2014 killed six people after penning a 107,000-word manifesto that railed against the women who had deprived him of sex. Many feminists were quick to read Rodger as a case study in male sexual entitlement. Fewer wanted to broach one of the manifesto’s thornier claims: that Rodger, who was half white and half Malaysian Chinese, had been denied sex because of his race. Srinivasan took Rodger’s undesirability head-on: of course, no one has a right to be desired, she wrote. But we ought to acknowledge, as second-wave feminists more readily did, that who or what is desired is a political question, subject to scrutiny.
In her debut collection of essays, The Right to Sex: Feminism in the Twenty-First Century, out this month, Srinivasan extends on the LRB piece by bringing analytic precision to a range of related subjects: Title IX and consent, the ethics of professor-student relationships, the role of pornography in shaping sexual expectations and desires, and the criminalization of sex work.