Feminism, Queer Theory, and Sexual Citizenship
GENDER EQUALITY: DIMENSIONS OF WOMEN'S EQUAL CITIZENSHIP, J. Grossman and L. McClain, eds., Cambridge 2009
19 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 1 Dec 2010
Date Written: 2009
In this chapter, I assess the roles that both feminist theory and queer theory should play in theorizing contemporary norms of sexual citizenship, and the relationship between these norms and citizens’ lives. My discussion proceeds in four parts. In the first, I consider the feminist discussion of sexuality that developed in the 1980s, and the dissension in the feminist movement that sowed important seeds for queer theory. I also assess the strengths and weaknesses of the theories that feminists created. In brief, I argue that the dominant feminist accounts of this era significantly advance the theorization of power’s effects on citizens. They failed to grasp, however, that oppressive norms of sexual citizenship are neither monolithic nor all-powerful and the ways that they are, in fact, contested in citizens’ daily lives. In the second and third parts, I discuss the development of queer theory and the features that mark this mode of theorizing. Some of the shifts between the feminist and queer theory modes of theorizing, I contend, offer conceptual advantages for understanding contemporary sexuality. Yet much queer theory displays a troubling tendency to valorize all sexual activity as liberatory. In doing so, it oversimplifies both existing norms of sexual citizenship and their relationship to citizens’ lives. This tendency, interestingly, is the obverse flaw of feminist theory’s: while feminist theory overstates the effects of oppressive norms of sexuality in citizens’ lives, queer theorists understate them.
Finally, in the last section, I discuss how current norms of sexual citizenship and their relationship to citizens’ lives might be better theorized, and consider the roles that feminist and queer theory can play in this process.
Keywords: feminism, queer theory, sexuality
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