Why We Lost the Sex Wars

Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era

2021
Author:

Lorna N. Bracewell

Why We Lost the Sex Wars

Reexamining feminist sexual politics since the 1970s—the rivalries and the remarkable alliances


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 and leverages this recovered history to illuminate a range of current phenomena in provocative ways.

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.

Why We Lost the Sex Wars

Lorna N. Bracewell is assistant professor of political science at Flagler College. In 2017 she received the American Political Science Association’s Okin-Young Award in Feminist Political Theory.


Why We Lost the Sex Wars

Contents


Introduction: Rethinking the Sex Wars


1. “Pornography Is the Theory. Rape Is the Practice”: The Antipornography Feminist Critique of Liberalism


2. Free Speech, Criminal Acts: Liberal Appropriations of Antipornography Feminism


3. Ambivalent Liberals, Sex Radical Feminists


4. Third World Feminism and the Sex Wars


Conclusion: The Liberal Roots of Carceral Feminism


Acknowledgments


Notes


Bibliography


Index