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Reexamining feminist sexual politics since the 1970s—the rivalries and the remarkable alliances Since the historic #MeToo movement materialized in 2017, innumerable survivors of sexual assault and misconduct have broken their silence and called out their abusers publicly—from well-known celebrities to politicians and high-profile business leaders. Not surprisingly, conserv Reexamining feminist sexual politics since the 1970s—the rivalries and the remarkable alliances Since the historic #MeToo movement materialized in 2017, innumerable survivors of sexual assault and misconduct have broken their silence and called out their abusers publicly—from well-known celebrities to politicians and high-profile business leaders. Not surprisingly, conservatives quickly opposed this new movement, but the fact that “sex positive” progressives joined in the opposition was unexpected and seldom discussed. Why We Lost the Sex Wars explores how a narrow set of political prospects for resisting the use of sex as a tool of domination came to be embraced across this broad swath of the political spectrum in the contemporary United States. To better understand today’s multilayered sexual politics, Lorna N. Bracewell offers a revisionist history of the “sex wars” of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Rather than focusing on what divided antipornography and sex-radical feminists, Bracewell highlights significant points of contact and overlap between these rivals, particularly the trenchant challenges they offered to the narrow and ambivalent sexual politics of postwar liberalism. Bracewell leverages this recovered history to illuminate in fresh and provocative ways a range of current phenomena, including recent controversies over trigger warnings, the unimaginative politics of “sex-positive” feminism, and the rise of carceral feminism. By foregrounding the role played by liberal concepts such as expressive freedom and the public/private divide as well as the long-neglected contributions of Black and “Third World” feminists, Bracewell upends much of what we think we know about the sex wars and makes a strong case for the continued relevance of these debates today.  Why We Lost the Sex Wars provides a history of feminist thinking on topics such as pornography, commercial sex work, LGBTQ+ identities, and BDSM, as well as discussions of such notable figures as Patrick Califia, Alan Dershowitz, Andrea Dworkin, Elena Kagan, Audre Lorde, Catharine MacKinnon, Cherríe Moraga, Robin Morgan, Gayle Rubin, Nadine Strossen, Cass Sunstein, and Alice Walker.


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Reexamining feminist sexual politics since the 1970s—the rivalries and the remarkable alliances Since the historic #MeToo movement materialized in 2017, innumerable survivors of sexual assault and misconduct have broken their silence and called out their abusers publicly—from well-known celebrities to politicians and high-profile business leaders. Not surprisingly, conserv Reexamining feminist sexual politics since the 1970s—the rivalries and the remarkable alliances Since the historic #MeToo movement materialized in 2017, innumerable survivors of sexual assault and misconduct have broken their silence and called out their abusers publicly—from well-known celebrities to politicians and high-profile business leaders. Not surprisingly, conservatives quickly opposed this new movement, but the fact that “sex positive” progressives joined in the opposition was unexpected and seldom discussed. Why We Lost the Sex Wars explores how a narrow set of political prospects for resisting the use of sex as a tool of domination came to be embraced across this broad swath of the political spectrum in the contemporary United States. To better understand today’s multilayered sexual politics, Lorna N. Bracewell offers a revisionist history of the “sex wars” of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s. Rather than focusing on what divided antipornography and sex-radical feminists, Bracewell highlights significant points of contact and overlap between these rivals, particularly the trenchant challenges they offered to the narrow and ambivalent sexual politics of postwar liberalism. Bracewell leverages this recovered history to illuminate in fresh and provocative ways a range of current phenomena, including recent controversies over trigger warnings, the unimaginative politics of “sex-positive” feminism, and the rise of carceral feminism. By foregrounding the role played by liberal concepts such as expressive freedom and the public/private divide as well as the long-neglected contributions of Black and “Third World” feminists, Bracewell upends much of what we think we know about the sex wars and makes a strong case for the continued relevance of these debates today.  Why We Lost the Sex Wars provides a history of feminist thinking on topics such as pornography, commercial sex work, LGBTQ+ identities, and BDSM, as well as discussions of such notable figures as Patrick Califia, Alan Dershowitz, Andrea Dworkin, Elena Kagan, Audre Lorde, Catharine MacKinnon, Cherríe Moraga, Robin Morgan, Gayle Rubin, Nadine Strossen, Cass Sunstein, and Alice Walker.

35 review for Why We Lost the Sex Wars: Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era

  1. 5 out of 5

    Kimba Tichenor

    A thought-provoking analysis of feminist sexual politics, but one that the general reader will find very difficult to follow. The author takes as her point of departure the 1980s clash between anti-pornography feminists (e.g. Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin) whose arguments centered on sexual danger and sex radicals (e.g. Gayle Rubin and Carol Vance) whose arguments focused on sexual pleasure as a source of liberation. The author suggests that the so-called "cat fight narrative" that came to d A thought-provoking analysis of feminist sexual politics, but one that the general reader will find very difficult to follow. The author takes as her point of departure the 1980s clash between anti-pornography feminists (e.g. Susan Brownmiller, Andrea Dworkin) whose arguments centered on sexual danger and sex radicals (e.g. Gayle Rubin and Carol Vance) whose arguments focused on sexual pleasure as a source of liberation. The author suggests that the so-called "cat fight narrative" that came to dominate how this dispute was understood is overly simplistic and consequently limits how we approach sexual politics today. In lieu of this dualistic approach, she revisits this debate, focusing instead on the intersection between feminist sexual politics and liberalism. In bringing in this new dimension, the author wants to point to the commonalities between the two feminist approaches in order to suggest a new way forward that moves beyond the carceral solutions advanced by the #Me Too movement. The author makes some excellent points about the limits of focusing on criminal justice solutions to issues of sexual inequality, especially given many inequalities in the sphere of sexuality occur that do not transgress into the realm of criminal behavior. Unfortunately, the book will not attract a readership beyond academia because the writing style simply is not accessible to anyone not already well-versed in feminist sexual politics and theory. Given how important this topic is, it would have been nice if the author had tried to reach an audience beyond the ivory tower. I would like to thank the publisher, NetGalley, and the author for an advance copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    Sex good. Pornography bad. With such utterances we begin to draw the lines that marked the “sex wars” of the 1980s, in which feminism schismed over how to approach sexual expression and the pornography industry. For some feminists, porn amplified the potential for violence against women—porn was essentially as bad as rape. For other feminists, the fight against porn was a fight against freedom of sexual expression, freedom to openly and intensely celebrate women’s sexuality. Lorna N. Bracewell s Sex good. Pornography bad. With such utterances we begin to draw the lines that marked the “sex wars” of the 1980s, in which feminism schismed over how to approach sexual expression and the pornography industry. For some feminists, porn amplified the potential for violence against women—porn was essentially as bad as rape. For other feminists, the fight against porn was a fight against freedom of sexual expression, freedom to openly and intensely celebrate women’s sexuality. Lorna N. Bracewell seeks to subvert the conventional narrative that this conflict was a simple, two-sided fight between anti-pornography feminists on one side and sex-radical feminists on the other. Why We Lost the Sex Wars is a very deep, very slow dive into the sex wars and their echoes into the 21st century. Thanks to NetGalley and University of Minnesota Press for the review copy! Bracewell’s thesis has 3 components. Firstly, she examines how both anti-pornography feminists and sex-radical feminists flirted contentiously with liberalism, and how this undermines the simplistic view that the sex wars were a “catfight” between two feminist movements. Secondly, Bracewell contends that these two groups largely ignored, erased, or appropriated from the work of Black and self-identified “third world” feminists; in other words, the conventional narrative of the sex wars has been whitewashed. Finally, Bracewell attempts to connect this complicated narrative to more recent developments—in particular, as the subtitle suggests, the #MeToo movement originating from Tarana Burke’s hashtag and catching fire after numerous women began openly accusing powerful men of sexual harassment and assault. Before I go further: this is an academic manuscript. On the plus side, that means it is saturated with citations. Bracewell is quite literally walking us through the minutes and minutiae of various feminist writers and activists from the 1970s onwards, and she does not come to play. On the downside, this means that if you are not of a particularly academic inclination—or if you are merely looking for a more conversational read, then this book is not going to be your jam. I can take what Bracewell dishes out here, but I’m going to confess I didn’t enjoy it that much merely because, the further I drift away from my university days, the less interested I become in reading highly academic publications. This was giving me flashbacks to revising my best friend’s PhD. dissertation a year ago! Nevertheless, I persevered, and Bracewell definitely has some interesting things to say. I grew up in the ’90s and early 2000s, so the sex wars that Bracewell describes aren’t something I’m very familiar with. My feminist awakening during high school was very much an, “oh, yeah, ok,” realization that women are still oppressed in our society, followed by many years of autodidactic education and one or two university courses to help me come to appreciate how that oppression manifests. My knowledge of the history of feminism as a movement has always been spotty, so that was what attracted me to Why We Lost the Sex Wars: I was hoping Bracewell would fill in some of those gaps. For the most part, she does! Writers like Andrea Dworkin, Caroline MacKinnon, Judith Butler, etc.—some of whom I’ve read things by, some of whom I haven’t—become central characters in this much larger story, and Bracewell helps you understand how the sex wars actually played out. As someone who wasn’t alive then, who didn’t live through those tumultuous middle and later decades of the 20th century, this is valuable. I do not want to be guilty of oversimplifying feminism’s past, of saying, “well, you had the good feminists and the bad feminists” or even, as Bracewell chides us, the anti-pornography feminists and the sex-radical feminists. It was, as these things usually are, so, so much more complex than that. Bracewell devotes most of the book to examining how these various positions interacted with legal frameworks and proposed solutions to the problem of pornography and related ideas of sexual deviancy or otherness. In particular, Bracewell is keen to critique tenets of liberalism as a political philosophy grounded in the preservation of individual liberties provided they don’t threaten the coherence of the state. While I admit I found some of this interesting and enlightening, the staid, survey-like nature of Bracewell’s narrative means I was not exactly enthralled. Probably the best part of this book is the chapter that looks at how Black women and other women of colour were shut out of the sex wars pretty much entirely. The problem, Bracewell points out, is a “monistic” view of womanhood—something that others might more commonly refer to as the “monolith” idea of feminism. The sex wars were not intersectional, in other words; both anti-pornography and sex-radical feminists viewed the issues as they pertained to white women, often in ways that were racist and ignorant of the history of white supremacy in the United States. This resonated with me a lot—I’m really interested in making sure that I approach equity work with an intersectional lens; we cannot burn down the patriarchy without also tackling the white supremacist society that enables it. So I think it is very important to acknowledge and critique, as Bracewell does here, how white feminism often erased or appropriated the work of Black feminists, pushing aside or dismissing race as a factor and choosing to focus exclusively on sex/gender as an axis of oppression. Towards the end of the book, Bracewell goes off on a tangent about why she thinks trigger warnings are a not-useful outgrowth of tepid liberal responses to harm and oppression. I guess … agree to disagree? This is the part of the book that seeks to fulfill the promise of the subtitle and connect Bracewell’s historical overview with more recent events. She examines the SlutWalk phenomenon of the past decade before briefly turning to #MeToo. Bracewell is highly critical of the way that SlutWalk and similar movements embraced a carceral notion of feminism, i.e., that the best way to deal with things like violence against women is to make it easier and safer for victims to report violence to the police, who can then take care of it as part of a reformed criminal justice system. Now, ideologically speaking, I agree with Bracewell here. She finishes the book with a call to action to return feminism to some of its more radical roots—i.e., the feminists from all sides of the sex wars who were sceptical of state involvement or invoking state power in what is ultimately a social issue. I am on Team Abolish the Police and agree that the solution is not “please, police, treat victims better!” and that feminism is best served aligning itself with more radical, abolitionist aims. Nevertheless, this part of the book is the least satisfying because Bracewell ultimately doesn’t succeed at drawing a clear connection between #MeToo-ish movements of the now and the sex wars of the then. The moment the book seems to be getting good and about to make this connection … it ends. All we get are some tentative discussions in the introduction and then conclusion about how “sex-positive feminists” are complaining about #MeToo because it’s prudish. Yet I’m failing to see how the critical retelling of the sex wars informs this phenomenon, because Bracewell spends too little time on the modern phenomenon. So Why We Lost the Sex Wars is incredibly detailed, well-researched, and well-organized. As an academic publication, it ticks a lot of the boxes. It is definitely informative and got me thinking about things like intersectionality and how liberalist philosophies interact with feminist thinking. Nevertheless, the book left me hanging with the third part of its thesis, the promise that this would feel relevant to more recent events. Originally posted on Kara.Reviews, where you can easily browse all my reviews and subscribe to my newsletter.

  3. 5 out of 5

    J Earl

    Why We Lost the Sex Wars from Lorna N. Bracewell is a thorough reassessment of the "sex wars" with an eye toward changing the discourse about it from a two-sided "cat fight" to a far more nuanced inclusion of liberalism as well as Black and Third World feminisms. To this end Bracewell is both very convincing and presents her ideas quite clearly. While this is not really too academic in the sense of information little known outside the academy, it does require some baseline of understanding of bot Why We Lost the Sex Wars from Lorna N. Bracewell is a thorough reassessment of the "sex wars" with an eye toward changing the discourse about it from a two-sided "cat fight" to a far more nuanced inclusion of liberalism as well as Black and Third World feminisms. To this end Bracewell is both very convincing and presents her ideas quite clearly. While this is not really too academic in the sense of information little known outside the academy, it does require some baseline of understanding of both feminisms before and after second wave feminism as well as of the "cat fight" narrative she is targeting. So while this is not an ideal introductory text it does need to be read shortly after beginning to understand the "sex wars" so that the reader will have these perspectives available before forming any strong opinions. It is also equally, or maybe more, important because of the way our current environment is framed in her final chapter. Ultimately this is a call for us to return to some more radical positions rather than defaulting to the liberal/conservative stance of carceral feminism. If you remember the sex wars and had strong feelings at the time, this book will be an eye-opener in the sense that we have all tended to gloss over the fine points as time has marched on and unfortunately remember the debates as a two-sided affair rather than a multi-sided one. While there will likely be some new information for most readers in the book (definitely was for me) the strength is in shedding new light on events and people that we may not have known about but did not associate within the "sex wars" discourse. Highly recommended for readers with an interest and some knowledge of feminist history, especially second wave feminism and the period known as the "sex wars." The reading is dense in spots but nothing that should keep most readers from appreciating the argument. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Beatriz

    Me encanto!! Todo esta perfecto. Me llamo mucho la atencion la portada del libro y despues de leerlo me he enamorado. Felicidades al escritor

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zora

  6. 4 out of 5

    Yuki

  7. 4 out of 5

    Reads With Rachel

  8. 4 out of 5

    Isabella Furtado

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tara

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jenna Gazarek

  13. 4 out of 5

    Anna Gajecka

  14. 4 out of 5

    Samantha Mac Donald

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Bianchi

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kelli Anne

  17. 5 out of 5

    Dubravka

  18. 4 out of 5

    Amar Baines

  19. 5 out of 5

    Julia Cortazar

  20. 5 out of 5

    Z

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jinx:The:Poet {the Literary Masochist, Ink Ninja & Word Roamer}

  23. 4 out of 5

    Frederick Rotzien

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Adams

  25. 4 out of 5

    Trica Johnson

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kim Ellis

  27. 5 out of 5

    Amy Wigand

  28. 4 out of 5

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  29. 4 out of 5

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  30. 4 out of 5

    Kye Cantey

  31. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Gerhart

  32. 5 out of 5

    Melissa ahmed

  33. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  34. 5 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

  35. 5 out of 5

    Nancy

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