Inquiries A Personal History
feminist history calls on us to imagine the world in new ways. It has the power to alter social relations by exposing the undeserved privileges that perpetuate long-standing social inequities. Feminism, Sexuality, and Politics presents my major contributions to rethinking history through the lens of feminist analysis. It explores the origins and strategies of women’s activism, ranging from prison reform to feminism, and argues for the importance of valuing women in a society that has long devalued women’s contributions. It highlights the regulation of sexual boundaries, with an emphasis on the malleability of both sexual identities and sexual politics.
The ten essays that follow include synthetic overviews, monographic research, and applications of feminist scholarship within classrooms and courtrooms. Readers may discern in these chapters the evolution of my thinking, which reflects in part the maturation of women’s history and the politics of American feminism. From an initial focus on white middle-class women reformers, my scholarship has expanded to explore sexuality and race as well as gender, men as well as women, and cultural meanings as well as social experience. Central to my approach is the development of a social constructionist analysis of inequalities.
As I reflect back on the scholarship, teaching, and politics that have informed my writing for over three decades, I detect several underlying currents: questioning hierarchy, valuing women, and retaining an outsider’s perspective. In my efforts, I have long been inspired by Virginia Woolf’s dictum in her 1938 work Three Guineas that newly educated women must “in no way hinder any other human being, whether man or woman, white or black,” from gaining access to privilege.1 To introduce this collection, I would like to discuss the personal influences that brought me to appreciate Woolf’s words and to place my work in a broader feminist and intellectual context.