Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism

Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism

Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism

Consent: Sexual Rights and the Transformation of American Liberalism

Synopsis

Haag examines the nineteenth-century obsession with the perils of seduction and twentieth-century disputes over white slavery, arranged marriages, interfacial relationships, and rape. The history of heterosexual modernity and identity must, she argues, be viewed as a crucial component of a much larger historical narrative -- that of the ways in which individual freedom and citizenship have been continually redefined in American liberal culture. She illuminates the development of liberalism from its "classic" stage that ended after the post-Reconstruction era to a "modern" version that came to fruition with the judicial acceptance of the right to privacy. Finally, she shows how debates over the meaning of heterosexual consent and violence contributed to this transformation.

Excerpt

This book, as with many histories, was inspired by observations about contemporary politics and culture. Attending graduate school amid a feminist "backlash," I noticed that students often avoided calling themselves feminists because, in their terms, they didn't "feel like victims." In these students' eyes, feminism distastefully envisioned women as abject figures, not strong or self- sufficient enough to look after themselves. In contradistinction, popular feminist discourse about sexuality and reproduction, especially, seemed to rely heavily on dreary clichés of "choice" rooted in a contested "right to privacy." Students evidently did not see their concerns or struggles reflected in this rhetoric, or at least were not inspired by it to embrace the feminist worldview. This book began as a contemplation of what it means to be a sexual victim or subject, as these terms are typically opposed in American culture. I wanted to explore the presuppositional, intellectual, and cultural foundations--the "prehistory"--for a concept of sexual rights that became explicit in the 1970s. How did an idea of sexual rights embedded in liberal concepts of proprietary self- hood evolve historically? How has sexual violence--an act of victimization-- been constituted, and how has it developed in relation to sexual consent--an act of sexual agency?

These questions led, perhaps inevitably, to a larger and messier set of questions about the relationship between sexual rights and ideology and the history of American liberal culture. Inevitably, after all, an elaboration of a concept of the '"victim" simultaneously elaborates a culture's understanding of a "normal" subject. The genealogy of sexual rights, it seemed, was a significant part of a larger story, that of profound revisions in U.S. liberal culture from the . . .

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