Vance, C.S. (ed.) 1984. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality.

Vance, Carole S. (ed). 1984. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Vance, Carole S. 1984. “Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 1-28.

“The tension between sexual danger and sexual pleasure is a powerful one in women’s lives. Sexuality is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression, and danger as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure, and agency. To focus only on pleasure and gratification ignores the patriarchal structure in which women act, yet to speak only of sexual violence and oppression ignores women’s experience with sexual agency and choice and unwittingly increases the sexual terror and despair in which women live” (1).

Dangers of sexuality – violence, rape, harassment, exploitation, coercion, as well as loss of control, overstepping boundaries; perks of sexuality – intimacy, excitement, embodied, subjectivity — help to sustain despite external threat.

Since inception of feminism, feminists have debated the role of sexuality and gender – some protectionist (from men’s aggression) and assuming vulnerability of muted sexuality; others offered demand toward visibility, sexuality’s link to workplace and familial autonomies. Capitalism imbued in gendered sexualities – if women were good, they would find breadwinning men to protect them; if bad, they would have to enter workfield on their own, opening themselves up to danger. Similarly, reinforces heteronormativity – good women were not lesbians – if violated, then not “worthy” of men’s breadwinning or social approval. Second wave feminism as directive in sexual autonomy, decreasing paternalism – however, women’s fear of punishment when sexual has not completed vanished. Fears of feminist stigmatization and association with lesbians – reinforcing white, heterosexual, middle class femininity.

“Sexual abandon and impulsiveness acquire a high price, since women must think not only about the consequences of their sexual actions for themselves, but also about the consequences for men, whose sexual ‘natures’ are supposedly lustful, aggressive, and unpredictable. Through a culturally dictated chain of reasoning, women become the moral custodians of male behavior, which they are perceived as instigating and eliciting. Women inherit a substantial task: the management of their own sexual desire and its public expression. Self-control and watchfulness become major and necessary female virtues. As a result, female desire is suspect from its first tingle, questionable until proven safe, and frequently too expensive when evaluated within the larger cultural framework which poses the question: is it really worth it?” (4).

“Beyond the actual physical or psychological harm done to victims of sexual violence, the threat of sexual attack served as a powerful reminder of male privilege, constraining women’s movement and behavior” (3). However, feminists have challenged this notion of “unchecked” masculine lust – helps to blame the victim, while naturalizing violent men’s sexuality. Polarization of gendered sexuality continues to reinforce gender difference and inequality. Critiques anti-pornography movement as gender essentialist – though these feminists have publicized and de-normalized rape and incest – however, porn may be an outlet for women’s sexual enjoyment

“When pleasure occupies a smaller and smaller public space and a more guilty private space, individuals do not become empowered; they are merely cut off from the source of their own strength and energy. If women increasingly view themselves entirely as victims through the lens of the oppressor and allow themselves to be viewed that way by others, they become enfeebled and miserable […] We cannot create a body of knowledge that is true to women’s lives, if sexual pleasure cannot be spoken about safely, honestly, and completely (7).

Sexuality as intersectional, embodied – faced through transient social meanings and structures – sexual orientation, for example, is in ways a cultural organization that is co-constructed with politics, culture, family, media, economies. However, just because sexuality is a social construction does not mean it is easily re-constituted or re-constructed. Gender, despite offering a framework for sexuality (and vice versa) does not mean that these models are fully representative of the ranges of gender and sexuality – binaries often stand in (culturally and academically) for vastness.

Media representations and discourses about sexuality are not unified – though genre-oriented; instead, the multiplicity of these forms demonstrate diffuse power, and at the same time, tension and debate. Variation in symbols offers insight to these debates, construction of alternatives, solutions apart from the mainstream.

“Female attempts to claim pleasure are especially dangerous, attacked not only by men, but by women as well. But to wait and organize for pleasure is to cede it as an arena, to give it up, and to admit that we are weaker and more frightened than our enemies every imagined” (24).

DuBois, Ellen Carol and Linda Gordon. 1984. “Seeking Ecstasy on the Battlefield: Danger and Pleasure in Nineteen-century Feminist Sexual Thought.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 31-49.

Despite early feminist debates on the role of sex, both were heterosexist – woman-woman relationships were not theorized as sexual – more so as adolescent, girlish – both arguments as moralistic and absolutist. Debates centered on rape, prostitution, out of wedlock pregnancies – both viewed through social problem lens, as ways to “possess” women, based upon different class orientations. Framed prostitutes as “innocents” who fell from social grace, “white slavery” – reinforced respectability and race politics. Motherhood as ways to “justify” sexuality – moral good through moral ill – self-sacrifice as a way to justify the vulnerability of “true” femininity. White middle class feminism fought for women’s ability to say no within marriage –however, not extended to women of color, immigrant, or working class women. Free love radicalism began in 1820s-1840s – though relatively monogamous or concentrated within collective – helped to decenter masculine desire, assert women’s sexuality

Echols, Alice. 1984. “The Taming of the Id: Feminist Sexual Politics, 1968-83.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 50-72.

Many radical feminists explain men’s sexuality through essentialist (and empty) ideas – biological determinism, women as asexual (instead romantic, intimate – opposite of men’s promiscuous, hypersexual, orgasmic conquest). Lesbianism cast as central to feminism, enlightened women’s sexuality – heterosexuality cast as undermining – consorting with the enemy. Conceptualizing women’s vulnerability through lack of access to safe and affordable birth control, environments of homophobia. Some embraced asexuality – as all sex was considered to be reactionary, masculine, a part of unfeminine desire (something to be resisted, controlled). In ways, radical cultural feminism reiterates traditional gender orientations and beliefs, but instead of deriving from biological sources, these absolutes come from the impacts of women’s powerlessness within male-dominated systems, resorts to victimization narratives, fear tactics, exclusivity.

Altman, Meryl. 1984. “Everything They Always Wanted You to Know: The Ideology of Popular Sex Literature.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 115-130.

Sex is not natural, but learned and social. Foucault (History of Sexuality) – by saying that something is transcending current repressive discourses, does this not reinforce the power of current discourse? Sex discourse has existed long prior to Sexual Revolution of 1960s, Victorian Times, etc. Dominant sex literature reinforces heteronormativity, mononormativity, and sanctioned scenarios for sexuality (within marriage, in private, etc.) – authored in ways that presume male readership, or women’s understood sacrifice to keep men happy (sexuality to keep men, not to pleasure herself). Women’s narratives of sexuality are discussed in terms of romance, love, intimacy.

Munter, Carol. 1984. “Fat and the Fantasy of Perfection.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 225-231.

Fatness as a feminist issue – where body policing and insecurity act as barriers for other arenas of success (work, relationships, etc.) Objectification not just in perceived attraction, but also perceived revile. Fatness as a site of potential resistance – refusal of control, standards, and gaze?

Nestle, Joan. 1984. “The Fem Question.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 232-241.

In the light of social change, butch-fem relationships seemingly replicate heterosexual inequalities, but at the time of strong prominence in the 1950s this was a radical sexual and political statement – adopting stylings of society that disowned them. Fashioning was a way to communicate sexual orientation, desired partner – however, was this actually representative of women’s personal stylings, or the adoption of “butch” uniforms? Attacked by sexual inversion explanations – wanting to “feel like or be” a man (trans* issues?)

Robinson, Patricia Murphy. 1984. “The Historical Repression of Women’s Sexuality.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 251-266.

Sexual repression of women has roots in men’s power in political and economic spheres – translated into “possession” of women’s sexuality – ability to call shots if you have the resources to do so (and a dependent partner). Women as a threat to capitalism as women command the “supply” (actual birth) of workers. Controlling women’s sexuality (and ability to produce) is central to maintaining (and/or resisting) capitalism. Transition of centrality of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacities under capitalism, as evidenced by cross-cultural and cross-sectional examination — old cultures had goddesses which were revered, multiplex and celebratory of women’s sexuality – however, under capitalism, women’s sexuality under rule of patriarchal bourgeois “owner.” Debates over birth control, promiscuity centralize back to the ability to control capital (inheritance, lineage), as well as working class supply of underpaid (and servile) women workers

Rubin, Gayle. 1984. “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 267-321.

Sexuality is still important in the light of other pressing social issues (disease, war, insecure economies, political overturn, etc). However, “Disputes over sexual behavior often become the vehicles for displacing social anxieties, and discharging their attendant emotional intensity” (267). Fields such as law, crime are involved with the policing of sexuality – psychology and medicalization of sexualities. Homosexuality persecuted as pedophilic, with several attendant laws to criminalize child sexuality — but also the perceived association with homosexual “recruitment” of children. Encourages rejection of sexual essentialism, instead noting the deconstruction and contextualization required of this concept – though embodied and enacted through bodies, sexuality is not just biological — though dependent on biological characteristics, identifications. Mind-body dualism within bodies – genitals as base, removed from the holiness of the brain or heart.

*** “Modern Western societies appraise sex acts according to a hierarchical system of sexual value. […] Individuals whose behaviors stands high in this hierarchy are rewarded with certified mental health, respectability, legality, social and physical mobility, institutional support, and material benefits. As sexual behaviors or occupations fall lower on the scale, the individuals who practice them are subjected to a presumption of mental illness, disreputability, criminality, restricted social and physical mobility, loss of institutional support, and economic sanctions” (279)

Growth of homosexual identity aided by industrialization, urbanization – though homosexuality framed through white, western notions of sex acts and identity – however, migration is classed (and military options are limited –were limited- for working and poor individuals).

“If sex is taken too seriously, sexual persecution is not taken seriously enough” (310).

Webster, Paula. 1984. “The Forbidden: Eroticism and Taboo.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 385-398.

Stereotyping of sex in feminist debates – lesbian sex always good, heterosexual sex always bad and unequal. Don’t feminists have fantasies and desires (of course!) – however, these desires were repressed in feminist revolution to appear rational, unbiased, unable to be swayed – NO weakness through “shared” interests. By acknowledging the wide variety of women’s passions, we open ourselves up to dialogue about the culture, power, and assumptions that we make about sexuality (and society) in general.

Hollibaugh, Amber. 1984. “Desire for the Future: Radical Hope in Passion and Pleasure.” In Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, edited by Carole S. Vance. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Pp. 401-410.

“Many of us became feminists because of our feelings about sex: because we were dykes or we weren’t; because we wanted to do it or we didn’t; because we were afraid we liked sex too much or that we didn’t; because we had never been told that desire was something for ourselves before it was an enticement for a partner; because defining our own sexual direction as women was a radical notion” (401). Multiply-worn feminist identities complicate a “catch-all” definition of women’s sexuality – that individual and group identities may factor into how we “read” and interpret sexuality, pornography – what is, what isn’t. Feminism as a critical tool in expanding the power women have within sexuality, instead of dictating “proper” sexuality.

Prerequisites to a Future Sex-Positive Feminism:

“1 The right to discuss openly the shapes and images of our own desires, recognizing how class, race and sexual preference influence the scope of the discussion and our conclusions. 2 The right to take sexual risks without risking our right to a secure place within the feminist community. 3 The need to educate ourselves with the best available information about all aspects of human sexuality and have that material available in our own institutions, bookstores and community centers. 4 The obligation to use, then go beyond, personal insights and histories to create a body of sexual theories as complex as each one of us” (409).


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