Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent
In the year 2021, Australia is experiencing a deluge of sexual assault testimonials. The voices of Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins and Chanel Contos have coalesced into a tidal wave made formidable by countless others who have, in their wake, named their own traumas. Taking in their stories, we would do well to acknowledge that they are, as Mikki Kendall describes them in Hood Feminism, “the ‘right’ kind of victims”. Less visible are the myriad accounts of First Nations women or women of colour. In pausing to contemplate the different forms of speaking or admission, we might remember, too, that listening works in different ways.
Speaking and listening is a complex tango that Katherine Angel adroitly delineates in Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent. Angel, a British academic, has previously written on desire, most notably and seductively in Unmastered: A Book on Desire, Most Difficult to Tell. Her latest book is partly a nuanced synthesis of the politics and cultural history of consent and female desire. Clarity, while sought, isn’t found in the form of a straightforward road map as one might assume from the title – a phrase plucked from Michel Foucault’s The History of Sexuality – that resists what it supposes.
This work is misleadingly slender, more capacious than slight. Angel considers feminism and post-feminism’s insistence on “confidence culture” and “speaking the truth” in relation to the personal limits of speaking. She explains that unrealistic ideals of “inviolable” girls and women or demands of certitude – the female knowing exactly what she wants – invariably lead to victim-blaming. The surprising relationship between Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth and the lie detector is revealed, its origin forged by the inherent mistrust of female speech.
Angel writes into the purple shadows of vulnerability. When assuming an intimate tone she evokes the indeterminate radiance encountered in Georgia O’Keeffe’s floral paintings, a space where the possibilities of sex reside as “an unfolding”.
Former United States poet laureate Tracy K. Smith has spoken of poetry as countering false notions of surety: “A poem says, ‘No, no. You have feelings. You have fears. You have questions. Let’s get back to the voice and the vocabulary of being human.’ ” Angel’s view of desire is a little like Smith’s on poetry; it is a labile current that resists scientific classification. The “vocabulary of being human” is expansive; it holds our vulnerability, the gaps between our words, our erotic charges. In the age of consent, valuing uncertainty remains as important as it ever was, but it cannot be merely a feminine imperative.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 5, 2021 as "Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again: Women and Desire in the Age of Consent, Katherine Angel".
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