Olio Seminar | Sex, Power, and Self: A Feminist Exploration of Pleasure and Pain

Jamie Warren at Nowadays

Mon, Jul 16 at 7:30 p.m.   |   90 minutes

In the midst of the profound cultural shift, feminists have found themselves, once again, debating which sexualities and pleasures are acceptable and which must be denounced. Can a woman claim to be liberated and simultaneously take delight in her own sexual submission?

This is a 4-part seminar taking place on Mondays July 16th, 23rd, 30th & August 6th

Can a woman claim to be liberated and simultaneously take delight in her own sexual submission? How can we demand absolute consent, while also asking for discomfort and pain? Are we simply acting out “power” outside ourselves, or, are we recreating the power schemas were are trying to escape? What, exactly, constitutes pleasure? And are we certain we can distinguish it from pain? This seminar will be an exploration of these questions and more. We will meet four times, and will be devoted to analyzing and discussing a classic text in the field of feminist theory and sexuality.

This seminar will include an introduction to Foucault’s landmark work on the historical invention of sexuality, The History of Sexuality. As a group we will discuss such topics as:


The Body and the Self

We will dive into The History of Sexuality. First published in 1976, the work remains foundational to any study of the relationship between sex, power, and the idea of the self. Indeed, the body is neither a fact nor a reality; it is a domain of experience capable of profound pleasures, extreme anguish, and the ambiguous space in between. We will also examine a few short excerpts from Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World.

Feminism and BDSM

Feminism and BDSM have historically had a tense relationship. While some feminists denounce BDSM for it’s degradation of women and it’s celebration of violence, others applaud BDSM for its focus on consent, agency, and its ability to create new discourses of power. We will turn to two classic texts from feminist theory to confront this dilemma: Audre Lorde’s The Uses of the Erotic, and Gayle Rubin’s Thinking Sex.

The Self?

At the heart of our debates around sexuality and power there lies a troubled and fleeting idea: the notion of the self. The “I” and the problematic “You.” For our last meeting, we will shift gears a bit and read a piece of fiction—Milan Kundera’s short story, “The Hitchhiking Game.” Kundera’s gift for writing about the painful and pleasurable place where self collides with power and sexuality is profound. Our last meeting will be devoted to analyzing this story, and reflecting on the possibilities of liberation from shame from abandoning the self once and for all.

Teacher: Jamie Warren

Jamie Warren has a Ph.D. in American History from Indiana University, and she is an Assistant Professor at BMCC-CUNY where she teaches American history, the history of women and gender, and women’s studies. Her research focuses on slavery in antebellum South with a particular focus on death, the body, and the philosophy of history.


Venue: Nowadays

What is Think Olio?


Think Olio is here to put the liberation back into the liberal arts.

Classically, the liberal arts, were the education considered essential for a free person to take an active part in civic life. To counter a humanities that has been institutionalized and dehumanized we infuse critical thinking, openness, playfulness, and compassion into our learning experience.

Read more about our mission, our story, and how we are doing this.

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If Friday night lectures, museum field trips, and living room salons sound like your kind of thing, then you've found your people. We can't wait to welcome you to the Think Olio Scenius. More info


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Olio: A miscellaneous collection of art and literature.