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A provocative, elegantly written analysis of female desire, consent, and sexuality in the age of MeToo
Women are in a bind. They are told that in the name of sexual consent and feminist empowerment, they must proclaim their desires clearly and confidently. Sex researchers tell us that women don't know what they want. And men are on hand to persuade women that what they want is, in fact, exactly what men want. In this environment, how can women possibly know what they want—and how can they be expected to?
In this elegantly written, searching book Katherine Angel surveys medical and psychoanalytic understandings of female desire, from Freud to Kinsey to present-day science; MeToo-era debates over consent, assault, and feminism; and popular culture, TV, and film to challenge our assumptions about female desire. Why, she asks, do we expect desire to be easily understood? Why is there not space for the unsure, the tentative, the maybe, the let's just see? In contrast to the endless exhortation to know what we want, Angel proposes that sex can be a conversation, requiring insight, interaction, and mutual vulnerability—a shared collaboration into the unknown.
In this crucial moment of renewed attention to violence and power, Angel urges that we remake our thinking about sex, pleasure, and autonomy without any illusions of perfect self-knowledge. Only then will we bring about Michel Foucault’s sardonic promise, in 1976, that “tomorrow sex will be good again.”
Katherine Angel is a writer and a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London, and the author of Unmastered: A Book On Desire, Most Difficult To Tell (2012) and Daddy Issues (2019). Her writing and research focus on sexuality, psychiatry, feminism, and gender in the twentieth- and twenty-first centuries. Katherine has a PhD in the history of psychiatry and sexuality from the University of Cambridge's History and Philosophy of Science Department.
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (mattildabernsteinsycamore.com) is most recently the author of The Freezer Door, longlisted for the 2021 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award and one of Oprah Magazine’s Best LGBTQ Books of 2020. She’s also the author of three novels and a previous memoir, The End of San Francisco, which won a Lambda Literary Award. Her novel Sketchtasy was one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018, and her next anthology, Between Certain Death and a Possible Future: Queer Writing on Growing up with the AIDS Crisis, will be out in October. Sycamore lives in Seattle.