On the 9th of February 2023, at 4 pm (German time/CET), we will have the pleasure to hear Megan Gallagher on Embodying Consent: Agency and Autonomy in Contemporary Feminist Thought.
Vanessa Springora’s memoir, CONSENT, caused a firestorm when it was published in France in 2020, as it recounted her sexual relationship with the famed writer, Gabriel Matzneff, that began when she was 14 and he was in his 50s. An open secret at the time, the relationship was tolerated and even encouraged by the adults in Springora’s life, an attitude chalked up by both Matzneff’s defenders and accusers to the permissive attitude toward sexuality and what was sometimes referred to as “seduction” in the post-1968 environment. Response to the memoir was immediate: though the statute of limitations had passed, Matzneff was dropped by his publishers and a pension based on his literary output, much of which traced his many relationships with adolescents, was rescinded. Perhaps more significantly, France finally established an age of consent. Yet a vocal minority has wondered how best to understand Springora’s relationship with Matzneff, as she unambiguously consented to it, albeit as an adolescent. This paper explores the ambiguities of consent presented by Springora’s memoir, arguing that embodiment plays an as-yet unappreciated role in debates about consent. Following Alcoff, the paper demonstrates that current concepts of consent are inadequate to address situations of deep structural inequalities, such as those in Springora and Matzneff’s relationship. It argues that the physical exploitation of Springora challenges two commonplace beliefs about consent that are nonetheless in tension with one another: the first, about the efficacy and desirability of a standard of affirmative consent, and the second, the belief that adolescents cannot act agentically and do not possess sexual autonomy. Reading these two claims with and against each other points toward a new framework for consent grounded in the unavoidable fact of embodiment, as theorized by Beauvoir, Young, and others. Ultimately, embodiment establishes the conditions of possibility under which consent can be established, debated, and refused.
Biography: Megan Gallagher is an assistant professor in the Department of Gender and Race Studies at the University of Alabama (USA), where she teaches classes on contemporary feminist theory and sex and gender in the history of political thought. She is the author of essays on Montesquieu, Rousseau, and Wollstonecraft, her work has appeared in Eighteenth-Century Fiction, Law, Culture and the Humanities, and Polity, among other places. She is currently completing her first book manuscript, Beyond Sacrifice: Civic Virtue and Emotional Practices.
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