One of my two key areas of scholarship is the contemporary feminist movement: in 2014, I published my second monograph The Politics of the Body (Polity Press) which analysed debates and initiatives on the topics of sexual violence, sex work, gender and Islam, and reproduction. You can read extracts from the book here.
I am now writing my next book, entitled Personal Business: the Fight Against Sexual Violence. This explores mainstream feminist movements against sexual violence, their underlying assumptions and their predominant modes of politics. I argue that campaigns such as #MeToo (and related actions) are based on what I call ‘political whiteness’: this is characterised by narcissism, a ‘will to power’ and a constant alertness to threat. Privileged white women are also well placed to deploy our personal experiences as capital within the ‘outrage economy’ of the media, where truth tends to come second to revenue generation. Mainstream sexual violence feminisms rely on state power and institutional governance for protection and safety, supporting racist and classist carceral technologies and the purging of ‘bad men’ from high-status institutions (but with little concern for where these perpetrators might end up next). This is less a form of collective action and more a form of social and institutional nimbyism which does not have revolutionary implications.
Furthermore, as women who have benefited from neoliberalism say ‘time’s up’ to men in corporate media outlets, and as these men appear in the same media outlets defending themselves against perceived attack, the politics of sexual violence can appear to be a conversation between white people about who is in control. This politics is not well placed to tackle the intersections of patriarchy, capitalism and colonialism which produce sexual violence. Furthermore, the more reactionary arms of feminist movements are actively complicit with the far-right politics also produced by this intersectionality of systems, in their attacks on sex workers and trans people. As the ‘we’ of many Western nations is violently (re)constituted as white and privileged, reactionary feminists define their own ‘we’ in exclusionary terms. I conclude that in order to tackle an intersectionality of systems, we need what Angela Davis calls an ‘intersectionality of struggles’ in which #MeToo would be connected with prison abolition, campaigns against workplace sexual misconduct with sex workers’ rights, and struggles against reproductive coercion with transgender equality.
The book draws on 13 years of intensive empirical research on sexual violence in universities, as well as extensive literature and key case studies, including but not restricted to:
- The international #MeToo movement and Women’s March;
- Campaigns against sexual misconduct in universities and international non-governmental organisations such as Oxfam and Save the Children;
- Debates about sex industry regulation, particularly the criminalisation of clients under the Nordic Model;
- Debates about transgender inclusion, particularly around reforms to the Gender Recognition Act in Britain and ‘bathroom bills’ in the US;
- The cases of individuals accused or convicted of sexual violence such as Harvey Weinstein, Larry Nassar, R Kelly, Asia Argento and Avita Ronell, and victims such as Jyoti Singh Pandey and Cyntoia Brown.
It builds on a number of papers which have already been published:
- ‘The Fight Against Sexual Violence’ appears in Soundings and the open-access version is here.
- ‘Whose Personal is More Political? Experience in Contemporary Feminist Politics’ appears in Feminist Theory here and the open-access version is here.
- ‘Sex Wars Revisited: a rhetorical economy of sex industry opposition’ is published in the open-access Journal of International Women’s Studies, available here.
- ‘Speaking Up for What’s Right’ is published in Feminist Theory here and the open-access version is here.
- ‘Reckoning Up: sexual harassment and violence in the neoliberal university’ is published in Gender and Education here and the open-access version is here.