Katha Pollitt in Dissent:
The Right to Sex has to have the cleverest title on the women’s studies shelf since Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist. It’s bold and provocative, even a little shocking: “OK,” it seems to say, “so they’re crazy, misogynistic, and dangerous—but are those incels on to something?”
Maybe just a little, Amia Srinivasan suggests in the essay collection’s title piece. When Elliot Rodger killed six people in Santa Barbara in 2014, he left behind a 107,000-word manuscript arguing that beautiful blond girls rejected him because he was half-Asian (not because, as Srinivasan notes, he was “a creep”), and therefore those girls deserved to die. To incels—young, “involuntarily celibate” men who rage against women for not wanting to date them—Rodger is a hero. From this rather alarming starting point, Srinivasan develops a fascinating challenge to rethink the commonplace view of sexual attraction as fixed and not open to critique. There’s a tension, she writes, in current feminism, which rails against fatphobia but also forbids interrogating women about their desires: “The important thing now, it is broadly thought, is to take women at their word. If a woman says she enjoys working in porn, or being paid to have sex with men, or engaging in rape fantasies, or wearing stilettos—and even that she doesn’t just enjoy those things but finds them emancipatory, part of her feminist praxis—then we are required, many feminists think, to trust her.” But, as she points out, women’s desires (as well as men’s) are shaped by social assumptions and prejudices—about race, ethnicity, weight, height, gender presentation, disability, and so on.