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The Politics of Bad Sex – The New Yorker

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In “Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent,” Katherine Angel suggests that mixed feelings are at the heart of desire and pleasure.Photograph by David Torres / EyeEm / Getty

When I was an undergraduate at Yale, in the early nineteen-nineties, I went to the university’s gymnasium one evening each week for a women’s self-defense class. We were instructed on how to fight off would-be rapists with physical force, using our knees, elbows, fingernails, and keys, being sure to mark an attacker’s face for police identification. Walking to my dorm in the dark, I was alert to not being a victim. It was part of the informal feminist curriculum that also included Take Back the Night marches and the slogan “No Means No,” one that dates me to an era when women were trying to defy vulnerability.

As a rape counsellor in those days, I remember chuckling with feminist peers when we heard about a new Sexual Offense Prevention Policy at Antioch College. The rules said that consent had to be asked for and given at each new level of sexual activity, with silence conveying a lack of consent. Saturday Night Live mocked the policy: “May I elevate the level of sexual intimacy by feeling your buttocks?” “Yes, you have my permission.” This stilted picture of how sex should proceed seemed absurdly unrealistic and made a small college’s policy a national punch line, despite its serious and understandable aim to prevent rape. At the time, even the category of “date rape,” on which I was trained to educate others, mostly envisioned a forcible act or one imposed on an incapacitated person.

But, three decades later, Antioch’s vision has more than stood the test of time, as evidenced by many young people and their schools’ views about how sexual interactions should be governed. The aspiration of affirmative consent is no joke; it is now mainstream and considered common sense among college students and recent graduates. So, in a typical example, today, Yale’s standard is one of affirmative consent, which it defines as “positive, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement to engage in specific sexual activity throughout a sexual encounter.” The policy goes on: “Consent cannot be inferred merely from the absence of a ‘no.’ A clear ‘yes,’ verbal or otherwise, is necessary. Consent to some sexual acts does not constitute consent to others, nor does past consent to a given act constitute present or future consent. Consent must be ongoing throughout a sexual encounter and can be revoked by any participant at any time.” Whether or not it is actually honored in the breach, affirmative consent is now used for purposes of investigations and penalties.

I’ve seen what enforcement of these standards looks like, as a lawyer representing students complaining of or accused of sexual misconduct. Today, schools that have affirmative-consent policies treat violations as sexual assault. In hundreds of cases, colleges have determined that men and women failed to obtain affirmative consent in a particular instance and have disciplined them, often with suspension or expulsion. In many other cases, students have felt deeply violated even when their partner followed affirmative-consent rules—asking for and receiving a “yes”—because aspects of the situation made them feel that what occurred was not what they wanted. Sometimes the explicit request for permission might have induced them to do something they were conflicted about. Some schools have trained students, as part of orientation, to seek and settle for nothing less than “enthusiastic” agreement to sex. Even under an affirmative-consent regime’s valorization of clarity, “yes” doesn’t always mean “yes.”

The jury is still out on whether our experiment with affirmative consent will reduce rape, prove useful for distinguishing sex from sexual assault, or lead to less experience of sexual violation. But what may well emerge is a recognition that the clearest practices of “yes” and “no” do little to untangle a deep difficulty that makes consent seem promising yet wide of the mark: the altogether human experience of not knowing in the first place what is wanted or unwanted, desired or undesired.

In a letter to Princess Marie Bonaparte, a French psychoanalyst who sought treatment for what she described as “frigidity,” Sigmund Freud wrote, in the nineteen-twenties, “The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ‘What does a woman want?’ ” This unanswerable question seems to drive Katherine Angel’s “Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent” (Verso), which welcomes us to experience a twenty-first-century feminist version of Freud’s aporia. We might have supposed that the sexual revolution of the nineteen-sixties and seventies would have liberated women and men to say what it is that they want and to get those wants satisfied. But Angel—whose book takes its title from Michel Foucault’s sardonic declaration, in the 1976 book “The Will to Knowledge,” that, in the wake of the emancipatory movements of the day, “Tomorrow sex will be good again”—deflates any delusions that the goodness of sex hinges on positive affirmation of our true desires. Foucault wrote, “We must not think that by saying yes to sex one says no to power.” Speaking truth to power simply doesn’t cut it, because the truth about our desires is . . . ambivalence, all the way down. The dominant socio-legal rubric that purports to divide permitted acts from prohibited ones—consent—is an on-off switch, not a dimmer. That doesn’t accommodate what, to Angel, is at the heart of desire and pleasure: the mixed feelings, the indeterminacy, the pulling in different directions, the balancing of conflicting considerations, the imbalanced negotiations, the paralysis by uncertainty. All of it is universal, she suggests, and also particular to “the double bind in which women exist: that saying no may be difficult, but so too is saying yes.”

Angel is the author of two previous books on female sexuality, “Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell,” from 2012, an aphoristic work crossing memoir, prose poetry, and philosophy, and “Daddy Issues,” from 2019, a long essay on the father-daughter dynamic. In “Unmastered,” Angel evinces skepticism about words as an adequate medium for conveying desire: “When the doing is dominated by speaking, when there are too many words words words, it is because, in fact, you are somehow not enough. By which I mean that you do not feel yourself to be enough, and that feeling makes you shrink, in your eyes and mine.” Yet in what Angel calls “consent culture,” preventing sexual violence and insuring sexual pleasure rest on a woman expressing what she wants. “Woe betide she who does not know herself and speak that knowledge,” she writes in her new book. This vision dovetails with what Angel terms “confidence feminism,” in which self-respecting women are supposed to be outspoken and assertive, so as to claim their equality and empowerment. (Cue Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” or Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on “power poses.”) In sex, this mode translates into the consent solution: a (strong) woman speaks to get the sex that she wants. If she doesn’t speak up, she risks assault, but there is also such a thing as bad sex, which we tend to see as an inevitable life experience, not rape. This is where Angel wants to intervene, refusing to brush aside bad sex just because it may be consensual and not legally punishable. “ ‘Bad sex’ doesn’t have to be assault in order for it to be frightening, shame-inducing, upsetting, and a legal concept has trouble drawing out this difference,” Angel writes. “Bad sex is a political issue, one of inequality of access to pleasure and self-determination, and it is as a political issue that we should be examining it.” Angel is with critics of consent culture in observing that affirmative-consent rules blur the distinction between sexual assault and bad sex, but she diverges from them in her view that bad sex is also a serious political, if not legal, problem, worthy of our attention.

“Bad sex,” Angel writes, is “miserable, unpleasant, humiliating, one-sided, painful” sex. Much consensual—even affirmatively consented to—sex is still bad sex. And, when affirmative-consent standards are adhered to, bad sex may become even worse; a woman might judge herself for a gap between what she says and what she feels, or for not having more clear-cut desires. The pains of sexual life are unfairly distributed: sex for a woman can involve the risks of pregnancy; slut-shaming; judgment, of her assertiveness or her diffidence; blame, for wanting it or not wanting it. Studies show a significant pleasure gap between men and women. What should we do about women who are experiencing what Angel calls “so much misery-making sex”? Since consent can’t distinguish effectively between good and bad sex, Angel proposes, we need to shift focus. The solution is to acknowledge “the fact of women’s vulnerability to violence” but stop trying to “make them invulnerable in response.” The hardening project of my college self-defense class and today’s earnest affirmative-consent push would be twin failures in that regard. Instead, Angel writes, we should acknowledge that “we don’t always know what we want,” in order “to allow for obscurity, for opacity and for not-knowing.” All those hours in therapy, working on knowing ourselves, only to see that “self-knowledge is not a reliable feature of female sexuality, nor of sexuality in general; in fact, it is not a reliable feature of being a person.”

Does this disavowal of knowledge actually open the door to good sex? Despite the wryness of her book’s title, Angel seems to offer an enthusiastic “yes.” Indeed, the final chapter, a paean to vulnerability, moves unabashedly from philosophical description into a surprisingly utopian self-help or how-to exposition on sexual fulfillment. She advises: “Pleasure involves risk, and that can never be foreclosed or avoided.” Leaning on the queer-theory classic by Leo Bersani “Is the Rectum a Grave?,” Angel writes, “We are all at someone else’s mercy in sex, and we all experience helplessness, that originary anguish and bliss; we all become infantile, dependent. . . . There is great joy, strength and transcendence to be found in the fracturing of the composed, adult self.” Sexual desire, she continues, “can take us by surprise; can creep up, unbidden, confounding our plans, and with it our beliefs about ourselves. But this giddiness is only possible if we are vulnerable to it. If asked, we might not say that what we want is sex in a hotel with a gruff stranger. It might be inaccurate to say either that we did, or that we didn’t. Desire isn’t always there to be known. Vulnerability is the state that makes its discovery possible.”

Angel criticizes certain other contemporary feminists, represented recently by Laura Kipnis, whose 2017 book, “Unwanted Advances,” excoriates a campus culture of Title IX investigations for infantilizing women and “restoring the most fettered versions of traditional femininity through the backdoor.” Angel objects to such “individualizing, shoulder-shrugging criticism of young women who are using the tools available to them to address the pains of their sexual lives.” But despite Angel’s more empathetic tone, hers is no less trenchant a critique of the most prominent of the tools available right now—affirmative consent. If anything, hers is more cutting, the knife going in softly; we understand her point to be that clinging to affirmative consent as a bulwark against sexual harm brings a fate far worse than infantilization. To Angel, it leads to tragically missing out on what makes sex good: “abandon, adventure, release, playfulness.” The “ideal of joyful vulnerability” that she extols is said to be “murkily inaccessible to our dominant understandings of sex.” She urges “letting oneself go to places of intensity, to the hairsbreadth space between knowing and not knowing what you want, between controlling the action and letting the action take over—being spat out of the flume into this coursing water taking you God-knows-where.” She avers that “the fixation on yes and no doesn’t help us navigate these waters; it’s precisely the uncertain, unclear space between yes and no that we need to learn to navigate.” This means placing radical trust in one’s partner not to abuse—with the risk that that entails—rather than having faith in consent rules to ward off abuse. What’s at stake is simply ineffable: “intense pleasure.”

For centuries, our legal system criminalized all sex outside of marriage, and two decades ago we still had enforceable laws against gay sex, adultery, fornication, and sodomy. None of these acts ceased to occur because of the prohibitions against them, but they carried painful burdens. Many of these stigmas continue today, though they’re no longer addressed through criminal law. It should not be surprising that we gravitate toward elaborate rules to sort permitted sexual conduct from the force field of sexual conduct that remains prohibited, namely rape. Well-developed rules beyond criminal law, governing sexuality in workplaces and schools, and regarding unwelcome conduct—unwanted touching, gazing, commenting, complimenting—are also part of the residue of the enforcement of sexual morality, even as the rules now explicitly aim to serve equality and autonomy. If the parts of Angel’s book that read as “how to make sex good again” were followed, we might well “discover things we didn’t know we wanted.” But, as Angel also understands, a lawyer would have to genuinely fear for people who tried this at home, because, in our current paradigm, such sexual surprise risks bringing on serious institutional penalties, not to mention profound feelings of harm. It also may be naïve for oldsters to assume that young people’s risk-taking around current consent rules wouldn’t invite the vulnerability of being at another’s mercy—the ever-present risk that one or the other might be dramatically shamed as a sexual deviant and banished from the community, or worse. It’s possible that the bells and whistles of consent policies multiply opportunities for transgression and thereby foreground danger, heightening the contradictions and possibilities of pleasure. Even on Angel’s hedonistic terms, perhaps affirmative-consent proponents have the last laugh.

“Sex, if we are lucky,” Angel writes, “is not just exciting and satisfying; it also touches our deepest fears, our deepest pains.” The notion that pain and fear are not to be eradicated from sexual experience but instead understood as central to its pleasures involves a kind of luck that we don’t tend to acknowledge as such these days, particularly in the immediate post-#MeToo years, at least publicly. Could people’s sexual luck, apart from their legal luck, be improved, gradually, by teaching them not just “yes” and “no,” but also “maybe”? That’s a clear maybe.

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Prince Philip took a keen interest in Canada, but stayed above politics, former GGs and PM say

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When former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien met the late Prince Philip for the first time, he told him that for an Englishman, his French was very good.

“He said ‘I’m not English and I’ve spoken French since before you were born,’” Chrétien told the Star Friday, commenting on his many encounters over 50 years with the Duke of Edinburgh.

“He was not dull, let me put it that way,” Chrétien said. “He had some strong views. Sometimes he had to show discipline to not speak up more than he would have wished.”

Philip, born in Greece in 1921 and husband to Queen Elizabeth II for over 73 years, died at the age of 99 on Friday.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who said he first met Philip when he was a little boy, described him as “a man of great purpose and conviction, who was motivated by a sense of duty to others.”

Former prime ministers and governors general spoke of a man who understood his role and knew not to get involved in politics, but who was very knowledgeable about Canada and took a keen interest in the country’s success.

“I was always impressed by their knowledge,” Chrétien said of Philip and the Queen, Canada’s head of state.

He said he can recall Philip asking about the prospect of Quebec separating from the rest of the country. “Not in a very political fashion, just in terms of interest. Of course he was interested to not see Canada break up. He would certainly say that to me.”

 

Statements from former prime ministers Paul Martin and Stephen Harper highlighted Philip’s devotion to the Canadian armed forces and charitable organizations, as well as the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, an international self-development program for young people.

Former governors general David Johnston and Michaëlle Jean, through their role as the Queen’s representative in Canada, were also able to get to know Philip more intimately, particularly at the Queen’s Balmoral Castle estate in Scotland.

Jean recalls being “overwhelmed” by all the protocol recommendations ahead of a Balmoral visit with her husband and six-year-old daughter prior to taking office in 2005, only to find Philip and the Queen greeting them at the door, with Philip paying special attention to her daughter.

“The memory I keep of Prince Philip is that of an affable, caring, elegant and warm man,” Jean told the Star, adding he was a man who was very attentive to detail.

She recalled attending a barbecue on the Balmoral estate, just the four of them, and Philip telling her, “Don’t forget to congratulate Her Majesty for her salad dressing, because she made it herself.”

What Jean also saw was a man sometimes hampered by the limitations of his role, like when he talked about one of his favourite topics, the environment.

“He said ‘I do a lot about it, I raise awareness, I take actions…I feel that whatever I do, no one cares,’” Jean recounted. “What I got from that is how lonely he felt…There was a sense of not feeling appreciated in proportion to his contributions, a feeling of being misunderstood.”

Johnston, who succeeded Jean, said Canada’s constitutional monarchy — where the head of state is politically neutral and separate from elected office — is an “important and precious” form of government, and Philip was key to making it work.

Philip showed leadership as a servant, Johnston said, “not taking centre stage, but by ensuring that the Queen and the monarchy were front row and centre.

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“He played such an important structural role, and did that with great diligence and commitment. He was selfless in that respect,” Johnston said in an interview.

For Matthew Rowe, who works on the Royal Family’s charitable endeavours in Canada, the Duke of Edinburgh’s political value to Canada was precisely that he was not political — that he, along with the rest of the monarchy, provided a stabilizing force outside of the partisan fray.

He was dynamic, irascible, exasperating, intriguing. And he was always three steps behind his wife, Queen Elizabeth, who utterly adored him throughout their 73-year marriage, flaws, faux pas and all.

“His presence, and the role of Her Majesty and other members of the Royal Family, has been to be able to represent the nation, to represent Canadian interests, and commemorate Canadian achievements without being tied to a particular political ideology or regional faction,” Rowe, who met Philip at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in 2010, said in an interview.

 

Philip’s role meant he could speak more frankly than the Queen in public, and spoke “quite thoughtfully” about the constitutional monarchy in Canada, said University of Toronto history instructor Carolyn Harris.

At a press conference in Ottawa in 1969, Philip famously said that the monarchy doesn’t exist “in the interests of the monarch…It exists solely in the interest of the people. We don’t come here for our health. We can think of other ways of enjoying ourselves.”

Philip had a good, joking relationship with Johnston’s wife, Sharon. He recounted how the two joined the Queen and Prince Philip at Balmoral in August 2010, prior to Johnston’s swearing-in later that year.

One evening, they were returning to the castle from a barbecue at a renovated shepherd’s hut on the estate — just the four of them, the Queen driving with Johnston in one land rover, and Philip driving with Sharon in the other ahead of them on narrow, highland roads.

“We were coming home at about 10 p.m., as black as could be, he and Sharon were ahead, kind of weaving, and we could hear these gales of laughter coming out. They were cracking jokes at one another,” Johnston said.

“I had a vision of him going over the edge and down half a mile into the valley, and my first thought is: Do the Queen and I rustle down to rescue them?”

Chrétien said “it must be terrible” for the Queen to now find herself alone after a marriage that lasted for more than 70 years. He noted it’s been almost seven months to the day since he lost his wife, Aline.

 

“It’s a big change in life but she’s an extremely courageous person and she will face the situation with the strength that she has been able to show to the world for the almost 70 years she’s been queen,” Chrétien said.

With files from Alex Boutilier and Kieran Leavitt

 

 

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After warning, McConnell softens posture on corporations’ taking political stances

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., softened his stance on corporations’ getting involved in politics Wednesday, a day after he warned companies not to weigh in on hot button issues.

“I didn’t say that very artfully yesterday. They’re certainly entitled to be involved in politics. They are,” McConnell told reporters. “My principal complaint is they didn’t read the darn bill.

“They got intimidated into adopting an interpretation … given by the Georgia Democrats in order to help get their way,” he said.

McConnell was referring to a controversial voting law recently passed in Georgia, which came about in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s campaign of falsehoods about the election result in the state last fall.

The law led the CEOs of Delta and Coca-Cola — which are based in Atlanta — to condemn the measure. And last week, Major League Baseball pulled this year’s All-Star Game out of Atlanta in protest. The game will, instead, be played in Colorado.

In recent weeks, McConnell has excoriated corporate America for boycotting states over various GOP-led bills. He said Tuesday that it is “stupid” for corporations to take positions on divisive political issues but noted that his criticism did not extend to their donations.

“So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics,” McConnell said in Louisville, Kentucky. “It’s not what you’re designed for. And don’t be intimidated by the left into taking up causes that put you right in the middle of one of America’s greatest political debates.”

Major League Baseball’s decision drew the most outrage from Republicans, as Trump called for a boycott of baseball and other companies that spoke out against the Georgia law. McConnell said Tuesday that the latest moves are “irritating one hell of a lot of Republican fans.”

McConnell, long a champion of big money in politics, however, noted Tuesday that corporations “have a right to participate in a political process” but said they should do so without alienating “an awful lot of people.”

“I’m not talking about political contributions,” he said. “I’m talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state because you don’t like a particular law that passed. I just think it’s stupid.”

Source:- NBC News

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Facebook Removes 1,000 Fake Accounts Seeking to Sway Global Politics

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(Bloomberg) — Facebook Inc. said it removed 14 networks representing more than 1,000 accounts seeking to sway politics around the world, including in Iran and El Salvador, while misleading the public about their identity.

Most of the removed networks were in the early stages of building their audiences, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Tuesday. Facebook’s announcement on Tuesday, part of its monthly reporting on efforts to rid its platforms of fake accounts, represents one of the larger crack downs by the company in recent months.

“We have been growing this program for several years,” said David Agranovich, Facebook’s global threat disruption lead. “I would expect to see this drum beat of take downs to continue.”

In one example, the company removed a network of more than 300 accounts, pages and groups on Facebook and the photo-sharing app Instagram that appear to be run by a years-old troll farm located in Albania and operated by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq opposition group. The group appeared to target Iran, but also other audiences with content about Iran, according to a report released by Facebook.

The group was most active in 2017, but increased its activity again in the latter half of 2020. It was one of a handful of the influence campaigns that likely used machine learning technologies capable of creating realistic profile photos to the naked eye, Facebook said in the report.

The company also removed 118 accounts, eight pages and 10 Instagram accounts based in Spain and El Salvador for violating the company’s foreign interference policy. The group amplified criticism of Henry Flores, a mayoral candidate in Santa Tecla, El Savador and supportive commentary of his rivals, the company said.

The social media giant also took down a network of 29 Facebook accounts, two pages, one group and 10 Instagram accounts based in Iran that was targeting Israel. The people behind the network posed as locals and posted criticism about Isreali prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to Facebook. The company also took down networks based in Argentina, Mexico, Egypt and other nations.

Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of security policy, said the company has improved its ability to identify inauthentic accounts, but said bad actors continue to change their strategies to avoid Facebook’s detection.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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