This text formed Lynne Segal's lecture from 'Radical Thinkers: the art, sex and politics of feminism' at the Tate Modern, 9th February 2015. The event with Lynne Segal, Griselda Pollock and chair Sonia Boyce, addressed the legacy of feminist art and theory and its enduring relevance to contemporary struggles. Visit the Tate website to watch the video of the event.
Agonism, challenge, contention! Start talking about sex today, and soon enough, trouble looms – unless we stick to jokes, or gender cliché. Agreement is usually hard to find, and not just for feminists! Although feminists certainly face very special problems, trying to tie the protean complexity and intangible nature of intimacy and desire to any sort of feminist sexual politics. This was never just a Mother-Daughter affair – though it was often enough presented as that. We challenged and fought with each other, from the beginning – as straight, lesbian, Black and working-class women, and more.
It wasn’t, in fact feminists, but William Reich, who first talked about ‘sexual politics’, back in the 1930s, criticizing the repressiveness of bourgeois sexual morality, which doubled as sexual hypocrisy, while he watched the rise of fascism in Europe. Reich’s Sex-pol aimed to free sexuality from the constraints of religious moralism and compulsive patriarchal monogamy, while seeing this as only achievable after the end of capitalist exploitation, with the coming of socialism. Times change, and then again, as we know only too well, its traumas return.
Although women reportedly read more than men, women writers are much less reviewed – and when they actually are, they are too often marginalized into chick-lit sections. Throughout the intellectual world, authors, publishers and journalists are taking small steps against the blatant imbalance in how male and female writers and reviewers are treated. One inspiring example that might go viral on the social networks is the #readwomen2014
As a Guardian article suggests, the project started as “listing 250-odd names from Angela Carter to Zadie Smith and encouraging recipients to ‘if not vow to read women exclusively, look up some of the writers I've drawn on the front or listed on the back’.”
Committing to reading more women authors is, in itself, a strong political stance. However, if one wants to address the deeper sociohistorical roots of the problem – namely, patriarchy –ingenuous bemusement at sexist reading habits is clearly insufficient.