Blushing. The interplay between self-love and social justice. Socialist sex.
These topics set the tone for “Bad Romance: The Ethics of Love, Sex, and Desire,” an interdisciplinary graduate student conference hosted at the Mahindra Humanities Center this weekend.
Using the #MeToo movement as a starting point, conference organizers and Harvard doctoral candidates Tess McNulty and Becca Rothfeld wanted to bridge the divide between public conversations about sexual consent and academic research on ethics and love.
“Scholars actually have something to say in this conversation [about #MeToo],” said McNulty, a Ph.D. student in the English Department. “The idea behind the conference is to actually do some of the work of applying the things that scholars know to this popular conversation.”
During the two-day conference, graduate students from institutions in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. will gather to discuss sexual ethics in philosophical texts, film, and literature, on the internet, and in social justice circles.
“The questions [raised with #MeToo] thus far have concerned the ethics of a particular sexual encounter but not so much the ethics of other kinds of intimacy,” said Rothfeld, a doctoral candidate in the Philosophy Department. “That’s not really something people in philosophy have discussed as much — like do you ever have an obligation to love somebody, or are there better or worse ways to love somebody?”
The conference’s interdisciplinary approach to the topic of consent emphasizes the intellectual tools scholars have to tackle the ideas head-on. “Every discipline has a different technology or method for understanding how the world works, and all of them have their limitations,” said McNulty. “One has the telescope, one has the binoculars, and one has the pencil. So why not bring all of these instruments together?”