Who Taught You to Feel Good? Pleasure Activism, A Reading List

February 24, 2020 | margaux s

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Pleasure Activism, written and gathered by adrienne maree brown came onto my radar when it was promoted by the guest artist for an Artists in the Library event with Jim Munroe and the Multiversity Collective called “Seeing Utopias & Resisting Dystopias” at Oakwood Village Library and Arts Centre. The premise was intriguing, a claim that feeling good isn’t frivolous, it's freedom, and that we can make social justice a pleasurable experience. I joined the long queue of people waiting for the book. 

This book does not need any further promotion. The 14 copies in our collection have been highly circulated and many people are waiting to read it. Because of that, I decided to focus my blog on the many feminist, intellectual and cultural influences maree brown cites in her book to expand your reading list. If you are waiting for Pleasure Activism, look into the books and music below, all of which are referenced in maree brown’s book.

Pleasure Activism is a compilation of chapters combining newer and older essays, dialogues, and blog-style entries, making the 428 pages approachable. brown writes in a first person conversational tone with mostly short blog-style entries. Some are drawn from formerly published blog posts with titles like “Why we get off” and "Nipples are Magic", found in the Feminist quarterly magazine B*itch Media which mareee brown writes for and helped establish. 

This book discusses many pleasure-related subjects including drugs, sex work, burlesque, consent and non monogamy, but is largely focused on embracing pleasure in the form of self-love and acceptance. brown and many of her interviewees discuss the role of pleasure as a form of resistance, for example in her conversation with Sonya Ranee Taylor, author of The Body is not an Apology, Taylor says, “Radical self love is how we get to a just, equitable, and compassionate world.”

In another section “Feeling from within – A life of Somatics”, brown discusses a course she took called Somatics and Social Justice. Somatics is a field within bodywork and movement studies which emphasizes internal physical perception and experience. “Soma” means the body perceived from within. brown writes that “Somatics is a practice-able theory of change that can move us toward individual, community and collective liberation.” 

While the book covered a broad range of issues relating to eroticism, consent, and issues of representation, I was left wondering how exactly somatics, self-care, and other pleasurable practices translated to activist activity in a grounded way. I was anticipating a more clear discussion on how to make activism more pleasurable, fun and creative. I believe many of the authors that she cites, which I am including in this post, will address different dimensions and add depth to brown’s contribution for curious readers. 

Staying positive, embracing pleasure in its many forms, and caring for ourselves is crucial in maintaining sustained effort toward any end. What I am less sure about is that the individually focused practices of self love will translate to broader social change. I am skeptical of narratives approaching social change through individual, internal work rather than upending the systems (economic, cultural etc.) that make people feel awful in the first place. Individually focused self-care messaging is too easily co-opted by corporate interests, absorbed into "ethical" brand identities and sold through marketings such as Dove’s Real beauty campaign. The same applies to eco-concious branding and individually motivated consumer choices as a proposed solution for climate change that may really be virtue signalling.


Some Questions to Consider

Do you believe that self love can get us to a more just, equitable world? How? 

What other authors have you read who connect the political, social, beautiful and pleasurable in a meaningful way? 

Who do you thank for learning to feel good? What related stories, artists, musicians do you recommend? 


I took the title for this post “who taught you to feel good?” from the second chapter of Pleasure Activism, where brown invites readers to pause and give thanks to those who enable them to access pleasure. This post pulls out some of the many references she makes to her mostly Black feminist influences who use pleasure, sexuality and the erotic as methods of empowerment. She frequently cites Audre Lorde “Uses of the erotic”, Joan Morgan and Leah Lakshmi. She also cites science fiction author Octavia Butler, Black Panther Angela Davis, and one of the fathers of cultural studies, Stuart Hall. 

I’d recommend this book to anyone who needs guidance on how to claim ownership and enjoyment of their body. brown offers grounded advice in the form of “hot and heavy homework”: specific affirmative advice that will help the reader find pleasure in their day-to-day reality. I like the framing of pleasure and the power of eroticism as a method for freedom. The subject seems all the more relevant in a post #metoo era where we are prompted to reconsider how we find pleasure and approach the erotic with confidence rather than fear. 

Also, if you want to make new acquaintances, read this on the subway. The book’s cover and title will spark the curiosity of many and it is likely to spark a few interesting conversations with strangers. 


Pleasure Activism Expanded Reading and Listening 

  1. Octavia Butler 
  2. Stuart Hall 
  3. Angela Davis
  4. Alice Walker 
  5. Grace Jones
  6. Beyonce 
  7. Nina Simone 


*And B*tch Media

*And Kama Sutra (for all those customers who request this book with downcast eyes “for a friend”, the call number to find it on the shelf is is 613.96)


Octavia Butler 

Changing bodies book cover

Black Utopia book cover

Parable of the Sower book cover

Fledgling book cover


Stuart Hall 

Orgins of Cultural Studies 

Stuart Hall book cover

Stuart Hall essential essays

Familiar Stranger book cover


Angela Davis 

The Trial of Angela Davis book

Are prison's obsolete, book cover

Dreaming in french book cover

When they call you a terrorist book cover

Nina Simone

Nina simone CD

Nina Simone CD

Nina simone book

Grace Jones

Grace Jones book cover

Island Life CD



Beyonce CD





Remixing Black Feminism book cover



Possessing the Secret of Joy book cover

Kama Sutra book cover