Lorna N. Bracewell, "Why We Lost the Sex Wars: Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era" (U Minnesota Press, 2021)

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Why We Lost the Sex Wars: Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era (University of Minnesota Press, 2021) helps us to understand not only the history of the “sex wars” in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, but it also helps to guide our understanding of the contemporary #MeToo Movement and the complexity of critiques about sex positivity in historical and current contexts. Bracewell revisits the history of the sex wars in the United States, and the different critiques and layers that made those battles much more complex and nuanced than the simplistic two sided “cat fight” that is often cast as the only dimensions of those debates. Why We Lost The Sex Wars re-examines the history of the debates in the late 1970s about pornography that would come to divide feminism as a movement. This history, especially the way that the narrative became entrenched as this two-sided fight effectively erased the voices and positions of feminists of color and international feminists, who had other perspectives on sexual politics that were voiced at the time but were not integrated into the history of the sex wars. Bracewell’s discussion is a clear critique of the way that these other, more marginalized voices were written out of the sex wars debate. She reintegrates these perspectives and voices, building more dimensions to the debates around sex and feminism during the period that spans the so-called second and third waves of feminism.

At the basis of Bracewell’s analysis is a framework grounded in the ideas of classical liberalism and this commitment to individual rights and autonomy. Bracewell asks “[h]ow did sexual-political possibilities not tethered to liberal notions of individual rights, civil liberties, due process, and personal privacy come to be as anathema to sex-positive progressives and feminists as they are to traditionalists and conservatives?” (Bracewell 4). This question also arises in context of the #MeToo Movement. In discussing the #MeToo movement—which is predicated on the concept that so many women (and some men) have experienced sexual harassment, inappropriate sexual advances, or rape, and that by disclosing that they too have this experience, others will come forward with their own experiences—Bracewell notes that this more contemporary movement about sexual autonomy and freedom does not always encompass everyone it necessarily should, explaining that many celebrities who have disclosed their experiences receive support for coming forward, but those harassed or assaulted who are not celebrities, those who have much more precarious jobs or positions, remain unnoticed and they may well suffer job loss or other detrimental consequences. Why We Lost the Sex Wars: Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era knits together the actual sex wars during the earlier years of the contemporary feminist movement and the more recent debates that have surrounded the #MeToo Movement, teasing out why these dialogues about sex are connected to each other and still quite relevant today.

Eli Levitas-Goren assisted with this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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