Oxford philosophy professor Srinivasan traces the meaning of sex in our world, animated by the hope of a different world. Reaching back to an older feminist tradition, she considers a range of fraught relationships—between discrimination and preference, pornography and freedom, rape and racial injustice, punishment and accountability, students and teachers, pleasure and power, capitalism and liberation.
[A] quietly dazzling new essay collection ... This is, needless to say, fraught terrain, and Srinivasan treads it with determination and skill ... These essays are works of both criticism and imagination. Srinivasan refuses to resort to straw men; she will lay out even the most specious argument clearly and carefully, demonstrating its emotional power, even if her ultimate intention is to dismantle it ... This, then, is a book that explicitly addresses intersectionality, even if Srinivasan is dissatisfied with the common—and reductive—understanding of the term ... Srinivasan has written a compassionate book. She has also written a challenging one ... Srinivasan proposes the kind of education enacted in this brilliant, rigorous book. She coaxes our imaginations out of the well-worn grooves of the existing order.
Srinivasan is clear about the need to do something about our desires but not about what, exactly, we should do ... Srinivasan’s essential counsel—to embrace ambivalence—might seem unlikely to cause offense. But it did. The disgruntled responses to the publication of 'Does Anyone Have the Right to Sex?' are the subject of a subsequent essay in Srinivasan’s book, 'Coda: The Politics of Desire.' Reading these two pieces together is like chasing a glass of rosé with a shot of fire. In 'The Right to Sex,' Srinivasan is temperate and scholarly, treading lightly as she builds her argument. In 'Coda,' she is writing with the clarity of anger ... For each of her points...she can find a counterpoint. This must be what it means to 'dwell in ambivalence.' Clearly, it’s not a comfortable place to be. But why should it be comfortable? ... Srinivasan is after liberation.
Srinivasan covers a lot of ground: pornography, sex work, Title IX, #MeToo, the racial politics of desirability, the incel movement, student-teacher relationships, carceral feminism ... If the collection has any through line, it is dissatisfaction ... This all might sound dizzying, even overwhelming, but Srinivasan lays out the stakes of these questions with an urgency that forces you to stay with her, to live in the difficulty of the politically inconvenient ... Some readers of The Right to Sex [might] feel unsated, hungry for clearer choices about how to live a feminist life. Well, that is the point ... Each individual essay in this collection is complex, requiring an exegesis beyond what the scope of a single book review can handle, but certain moments stand out to me as impossible not to highlight ... I felt that Srinivasan was careful to disentangle ideas from action, and laid out some startling information about the unequal policing of pornography and sex work ... On any given page, Srinivasan will leave you feeling convinced she has found a way out, only to pull the rug out from under you; whenever she says 'but,' one wants to duck. Though far from exasperation, I felt relieved—even hopeful—that someone is asking the hard questions in public without asking for anything as absurd as a single answer.