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Simon and Shuster

What is bad sex, what is rape, and is there a grey area in between? Last December, a short story called "Cat Person" was published in The New Yorker and immediately went viral, largely because it sought to answer this very question.

In the story, a college student named Margot briefly dates an older man named Robert whom she meets at the movie theatre where she works. The ensuing slobbery kisses and awkward sex straddle the line between non-consensual and simply unsatisfying; Margot doesn't enthusiastically consent to these acts, but instead, allows them because "to stop what she had set in motion... would require an amount of tact and gentleness that she felt was impossible to summon."

The #MeToo movement has shone light on the violent actions of celebrities like Harvey Weinstein, Louis CK, and others--some involving rape, others "only" involving the misreading of signals or dismissals of expressed sexual apprehensions. Public scrutiny of such reports leads to them being ranked in a hierarchy, where more subtle sexual microaggressions are dubbed "not as bad" as rape. Whether or not you subscribe to such rankings, it's clear that all these violations are shades on the same harmful spectrum.

The author of "Cat Person," Kristen Roupenian, tackles that very spectrum in her new short story collection, the aptly-named You Know You Want This. As her $1.2-million book deal attests, the themes in these stories are hot-button issues. In the book, we meet a couple who relish sexually humiliating their hapless friend; we meet a pre-teen girl with a haunting crush on a grown man; a "nice guy" who fantasizes about stabbing women in bed; and a woman with a fetish for being punched and kicked.

In her pithy-yet-devastating prose, Roupenian challenges us to confront our biases and beliefs about sexual exploitation. While it's clear we have a long way to go, rape-culture conversation-starters like this book--not to mention the brave heroes of the #MeToo movement--are pushing us closer to a holistic understanding of what consent is and what it decidedly is not.


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Title Annotation:FEMINISM & POLITICS
Author:Sloan, Kate
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jun 22, 2019
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