Feb 19, 2021
From ‘No means No’ to #MeToo – original thoughts on consent and the complexities of female desire
“In recent years, two requirements have emerged for good sex: consent and self-knowledge,” Katherine Angel writes. Judging by the number of freshers’ week workshops and op-ed articles devoted to the subject, consent is vital for better sex. This seems like progress – it takes women at their word and defuses the potential for sexual violence. But its conceit of absolute clarity, Angel argues, “places the burden of good sexual interaction on women’s behaviour”.
Faced with the hurt that many experience as a result of sex, the idea of transparent self-knowledge is appealing. Angel marks the development of consent from the “No means No” slogan of 1970s anti-rape campaigners through to the sex-positive “post-feminism” of the 1990s and early 00s (with obligatory reference to the Spice Girls). As consent culture has evolved, it has assumed some of the characteristics of Sheryl Sandberg-style confidence feminism, prizing sassy self-expression and individual empowerment over political transformation. The risk for Angel is that exhorting women to know and express their desires in the language of positive affirmation places the responsibility for preventing sexual violence on women’s conduct, rather than examining why violence occurs in the first place. As such, “rape … and responses to it, are privatised”. Continue reading...
May 02, 2020
From ‘clean eating’ to the countryside to Goop, ‘natural’ is assumed to be good and is almost a new religion, argues this book. But is the author focusing on the right question?
The world was under lockdown and I was playing at being an outlaw. From the comfort of my sofa, I traversed alligator-infested swamps, skinned beavers and made a poultice from herbs. The video game was Red Dead Redemption 2, a simulation of the rural American midwest, where the player is free to roam through a fictional ecology. During the many hours I spent playing the game, it became clear to me that this wasn’t just an escape from reality, but its inversion. The nature I was consuming on screen – a vibrant landscape that existed to be mastered, harvested and utilised for human gain – was the opposite to what existed outside: a landscape that, insofar as it had been shuttered by a zoonotic virus, showed how our mastery of nature could eventually return to master us.
A few pages into his book Natural, Alan Levinovitz identifies this contradiction: “Again and again, the question of our proper relationship with nature is reframed in the same way: should we obey nature, or transcend it?” What Levinovitz, an associate professor of religion, calls “natural goodness” is all around us, from food packaging to “clean eating” documented on Instagram, to the belief that natural detergents are better than their artificial equivalents, to an unthinking dichotomy between urban (artificial) and rural (natural). It’s a logic often suffused with religious piety: clean, good, natural things are contrasted with the unclean and unnatural, mass-produced and industrial. As Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle company Goop puts it: “Clean, for us, is about avoiding potentially toxic ingredients.” Citing the anthropologist Mary Douglas, Levinovitz notes that deeming one thing natural and another toxic is about far more than cleanliness; it’s about imposing a moral order on the world around you. Continue reading...