Gender Studies

Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel & Why We Lost the Sex Wars by Lorna Bracewell

by
June 2021, no. 432

Among historians of sexuality, it is customary to stress that there was never just one sexual revolution, but many. There were the pop-culture versions, the countercultural expressions and perhaps most momentously, but least discussed, the everyday or ‘ordinary’ sexual revolution. Or conversely, as French philosopher Michel Foucault so influentially argued in The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The will to knowledge – first published in French in 1976 and in English in 1978, in the very thick of the so-called sexual revolution – there was no liberating sex from the disciplinary and regulatory effects of modern sexuality, already by then at least three centuries old. One of the delusions of the age was that, as we put sexual repression behind us (by saying yes to sex, for instance), ‘tomorrow sex will be good again’.

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All authors who are releasing new books during the global pandemic are at a disadvantage, but some less so than others. It helps to have a title that speaks to the moment, which The Better Half, with its central thesis that women are ‘genetically privileged’, certainly does. The coronavirus, we have learnt, tends to affect men more severely than women. Some have attributed the discrepancy to men being more likely to engage in risk-taking or health-compromising behaviours, while other experts have advanced a genetic explanation.

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When I’m ten or so, my brother appears shirtless at the dinner table. Ever the eager disciple, I follow his example without a second thought. It is a sweltering January day, and our bodies are salt-crusted from the beach. Clothing seems cruel in these conditions. As my brother tucks into his schnitzel, tanned chest gleaming, I grow conscious that the mood has become strained. Across the table, my parents exchange glances. The midsummer cheer of recent evenings is on hold.

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Today’s transgender community is woefully ignorant of its past, beholden to ‘historical amnesia’ and the ‘erasure of much trans history’ – or so Barry Reay would have us believe. Reay, a prolific historian of sexuality at the University of Auckland, begins his new history, Trans America, by decrying the supposed trans failure to look to the past, before setting about the task of correcting, as he puts it, ‘the significant structural and conceptual weaknesses in trans history’.

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Six years after the ‘transgender tipping point’ proclaimed by Time magazine in 2014, the trans and gender-diverse (TGD) community continues to surge into the spotlight. From Netflix and Neighbours to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (which named ‘they’ its 2019 word of the year), transgender experience is enjoying well-deserved recognition and representation. Visibility, however, is not without its problems. Internationally, growing awareness has triggered an anti-trans backlash, with the TGD community becoming a conservative scapegoat du jour. The United States is experiencing a spate of anti-trans violence, while ‘bathroom bills’ proliferate in red states. In Australia, the 2016 moral panic over Safe Schools was followed in 2019 by The Australian’s anti-trans campaign (with sixty-eight articles, ninety-two per cent of them negative, published in six months), as well as the transphobic fearmongering of TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) over Victoria’s birth certificate reforms – not to mention Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s attacks on ‘gender whisperers’.

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Australian journalist and author David Leser’s 2018 Good Weekend article, ‘Women, Men and the Whole Damn Thing’, sparked a wildfire of commentary, confession, and praise. Written in the early white heat of the #MeToo movement, the Harvey Weinstein exposé, and Oprah Winfrey’s 2018 Golden Globes speech in which she spoke out on behalf of the Time’s Up campaign ...

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Far from being a flimsy, frilly story for women full of antique charm and middle-class manners, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock is a novel of sharp social observations and nuanced critique; subtle and sometimes latent sensuality; and layered, intricate allegory. The ‘shimmering summer morning warm and still’ brings the opposite to what it promises ...

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In A Room of One’s Own (1929), Virginia Woolf instructs women to ‘write calmly’ and ‘not in a rage’. Commentator Catherine Fox writes ‘calmly’ about contemporary realities with great potential to spark rage.

Stop Fixing Women operates partly as a rejoinder to Sheryl Sandberg’s popular manifesto Lean In (2013), which addressed ‘internal obstac ...

The Sex Myth announces some lofty aspirations in its title, which invokes game-changing feminist interventions like Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique (1963) and Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth (1991). Saturated as we are now by sex talk of all kinds, it is hard to imagine a critique of sex/gender mores having anything like the same impact. Nonethe ...

When Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch was published in 1970, it created a sensation. Within six months, it had almost sold out its second print run and had been translated into eight languages. Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, the influence of which critics see in Greer’s book, had come out in France in 1949. The Feminine Mystique, b ...

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