Oakley, Ann. “1.1 Sexuality.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Ann Oakley received her PhD in Sociology from Bedford College, University of London in 1969. She is Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the Institute of Education, University of London. She is best known for her work on sex and gender, housework, childbirth and feminist social science. This particular article is originally from her book Sex, Gender, and Society, published in 1972

Coming from Ann Oakley’s groundbreaking book, Sex, Gender and Society, this was one of the earliest attempts to argue that femininity and masculinity are socially constructed. In this extract, Oakley draws on cross-cultural evidence to argue that differences between male and female (hetero) sexuality are products of culture, rather than nature.

Poovey, Mary. “1.2 Scenes of an Indelicate Character: The Medical Treatment of Victorian Women.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Mary Poovey received her PhD in English at the University of Virginia in 1976. She is currently a Professor of English at New York University. Her primary scholarly work focuses on nineteenth-century British literature, history and culture. This article is originally from her book, Uneven Developments, published in 1989.

Feminists have used historical evidence to demonstrate that human sexuality is not fixed by ‘nature’. Mary Poovey explores shifts in the construction of female sexuality in the nineteenth, in particular the contradictions underlying medical and other scientific ideas. At this time women were defined as both asexual and saturated with sexuality, incapable of autonomous desire yet almost helplessly susceptible to sexual stimulation, as morally pure but physically impure. in this extract Poovey uses the debate about the use of chloroform during childbirth as one instance of these contradictions. This practice was pioneered in Scotland by James Young Simpson, but met considerable opposition from other doctors, especially in England.

Jeffreys, Sheila. “1.3 Women’s Friendships and Lesbianism.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Sheila Jeffreys is an Australian scholar who received her PhD from Monash University. She is a professor in Political Science at the University of Melbourne in Australia. The focus of her research includes topics such as female to male transsexualism, gay pornography, feminist critiques on queer theory, queer political agenda, and the international sex industry. This particular article is from her work The Spinster and Her Enemies published in 1985.

Sheila Jeffreys takes an historical perspective in order to illustrate changing perceptions of close relationships between women. She argues that redefinitions of female sexuality in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, along with the construction of the category ‘lesbian’, resulted in the outlawing of passionate friendships.

Dworkin, Andrea. “1.4 Biological Superiority: The World’s Most Dangerous and Deadly Idea.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Andrea Dworkin (1946 - 2005) graduated from Bennington College with a BA in literature. In her lifetime she gained national fame as a spokeswoman for the feminist anti-pornography movement, and for her writing on pornography and sexuality. This article was first published in Heresies No. 6 on Women and Violence, published in 1978.

Andrea Dworkin’s critique of essentialism rests on its potential political consequences. Writing in 1978, when some feminist activists were attracted to the idea that women were naturally superior to men, Dworkin argues that this view is just as mistaken as that which asserts that women are naturally subordinate. Taking a radical feminist perspective she suggests that any form of biological determinism is ultimately Fascist in its implications.

Jackson, Stevi. “1.5 The Social Construction of Female Sexuality.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

British theorist Stevi Jackson gained her MA from the University of York in 1973, after which she returned to pursue doctoral research on young women and sexuality. She has been Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of York for 11 years. She personally describes her research as an attempt to explain and theorise her own experience of being a heterosexual woman. This piece is originally from her series Explorations in Feminism published in 1978.

In seeking to explain the construction of our individual sexualities, some feminists have turned to psychoanalysis, but others have been wary of it. This critique of Freud, written in the late 1970s, goes on to offer an alternative perspective on female sexuality derived from sociological perspectives.

Rose, Jacqueline. “1.6 Feminine Sexuality.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Jacqueline Rose is a British academic who gained a higher degree from the Sorbonne, Paris, later receiving her doctorate from the University of London. She is currently a Professor of English at Queen Mary, University of London, and best known for her critical study of the life of American writer Sylvia Plath. This particular piece is an excerpt from her book Feminine Sexuality: Jacques Lacan and Ecole Freudienne published in 1985.

The reading of Freud provided by the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan is thought by some feminists to overcome the problems of a more literal interpretation of Freud. Here Jacqueline Rose explains some of Lacan’s ideas and argues that they offer crucial insights into female sexuality. From theis perspective desire is constituted through our entry into language and culture, through submission to the ‘law of the father’.

Irigaray, Luce. “1.7 This Sex Which Is Not One.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Luce Irigaray is a Belgian-born French theorist who began her work in school teaching during the 1950s, after which she gained two PhDs, one in linguistics and the other in philosophy. She is best known for her works Speculum of the other Woman (1974) and This Sex Which is Not One (1977), in which this particular piece is excerpted from.

An alternative psychoanalytic perspective is provided by Luce Irigaray. While she shares Lacan’s emphasis on the importance of language in the construction of subjectivitiy, she vigorously contests the phallocentrism of Freudian and Lacanian perspectives, arguing that they deny women’s difference and are implicated in the suppression of our sexuality.

Hollway, Wendy. “1.8 Gender Difference and the Production of Subjectivity.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Wendy Hollway received her PhD in Social Psychology from the University of London, with a focus on Identity and Gender Differences in Adult Relationships. She is currently an Emeritus Professor of Psychology at The Open University, UK. She has researched and published on questions regarding identity, gender relations, parenting, the capacity to care, and the history of psychology, all of which include the uniting theme of a ‘psycho-social’ approach. This article was originally published in the book Changing the Subject published 1984.

Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault, Wendy Hollway suggests that our sexualities derive, in part, from the ways in which we position ourselves within the discourses available to us. She identifies three culturally salient discourses which each offer men and women differing subject positions.

Birke, Lynda. “1.9 Animals and Biological Determinism.” Feminism and Sexuality: A Reader.

Lynda Birke is a British biologist who received her MA and PhD in Animal Behavior from the University of Sussex. She is currently an Associate at the New Zealand Centre for Human-Animal Studies at the University of Canterbury, and a Professor in the Biological Sciences Department at the University of Chester, UK. Birke’s primary scientific research is focused on hormones and animal behavior, and her feminist science studies encompass a number of themes, but particularly incorporate topics around biology. This piece was originally published in the book Feminism, Animals, and Science published in 1994.

Feminists have often approached this through drawing a sharp distinction between animals -- seen as part of nature -- and human beings -- whose culture enables them to transcend nature. Lynda Birke challenges this dichotomy, arguing that it leads to a simplistic understanding of biology and particularly of animal behaviour.