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Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown - A Review

Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good by adrienne maree brown - A Review

"If you can, I suggest that you have an orgasm before diving into this book."

This is how adrienne maree brown's Pleasure Activism begins. The book combines the pleasures of being human with the joy of wanting to change the world, and gives us what might look like an amalgam of these tendencies: the pleasure in politics of change itself. The book carries six sections delving into the pleasure of sex, cannabis, the relationship between sexual liberation and consent, healing and pleasure, friendships and nonmonogamous equations. It features essays written by brown herself, and also authors from different walks of life-- academics, activists, creatives---who find pleasure in creating liberated futures. 

The first section, Who Taught You to Feel Good, is about lineage--- it delves into who we learn the language of joy and pleasure from and how our history shapes our negotiations with the present. Here, brown connects herself to Black feminists Octavia Butler and Audre Lorde who taught her to see justice and liberation as acts of collective pleasure. She mentions Frida Kahlo, Anais Nin, Andrea Dworkin amongst others as part of her pleasure activism lineage. She helps us in forging connections with people who we experience joy with without necessarily physically meeting them.

The second and third section will be of specific interest to the readers of Bonjibon. Called Politics of Radical Sex and Circle of Sex, both these sections painstakingly invite us to see sex and sexual joy as a crucial part of resistance and subversion of dominant structures. In a piece called Wherein I Write about Sex, brown gives five tangible tools for a Pleasure activist-- self love, orgasmic meditation, self pornography, developing erotic awareness and talking about sex. Brown centers curiosity and self affirmation alongside self knowledge and critical empathy that is key in provision of joy to the self to become an extension of providing joy to others. In a world where the marginalized are taught to hate themselves, repress their true selves and desires and constantly feel pain of marginalization, self adoration becomes the first step in realizing one's power beyond the confines of dominant structures. This section also has a subsection dedicated to sex workers and their pleasures in getting paid fairly, in not shaming oneself for their job and finding pleasure in being protected by money---money that is necessary and necessitated by the conditions of our contemporary existence. Brown writes: we deserve the pleasure of having enough, and we have the right to use our sexuality to get it.

The next few sections deal with the #MeToo movement and bring together disparate conversations around consent, rape culture, sexual repression in a seamless fashion, showing how conversation around both boundaries and fantasies are important for us to be "safe" in our sexual practices. Sexual harm, brown writes, is perpetuated by structures that are punitive and do not allow for us to see the conplicated levels at which we all operate. For brown, consent isn't just saying yes to sex---it is about checking in where someone is emotionally, physically, what that state has to do with their history. Consent makes sex pleasurable because the option of saying no and respected boundaries is what makes our connections intimate, deep and loving.

The next few sections are dedicated to how pleasure becomes a political practice when fear, social marginalization, abuse and disease stops people from feeling good, feeling joy and feeling deserving of sexual and erotic joy. In seeking pleasure when you're "not supposed to", or when you're not supposed to seek specific kinds of pleasure, is an act of resistance---making the world uncomfortable is key to any subversive acts. The section contains texts on trans desire, pleasures in care work and seeking pleasure after suffering from childhood abuse. Pleasure becomes healing as it becomes an act of intentional resilience, and forges a path of recovery. I particularly liked the piece by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarsinha who shows the connection between caring for one another in wildly intimate ways and creating accessible environments. In an ableist world, certain communities are strategically uncared for, and seeking care becomes the first step to reclaiming discarded joys.

This book, in sum, is for anyone wanting to find a connection between pleasure and resistance. Before I read this book, I was quite cynical about making small acts look subversive-- why is masturbating an act of resistance? But brown taught me that the key to resistance isn't in the individual act, but it is in the awareness of pleasure that you feel in a wildly unpleasurable world--the knowledge you gain helps you recognise what you enjoy, what enables it and what represses it and for whose profits. Revolutions only happen when we want to transform the oppressive forces within ourselves, which in turn helps enable a world where pleasure and joy is a collectively felt and accessible experience. 


About the writer

Prerna Subramanian

Prerna Subramanian (she/her) is a Doctoral Candidate and labour activist at Queen's University where she studies politics of space and gender dissidence in Indian cinema. She loves cooking Indian food and unwinds with binging on her evolving collection of cringe.

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