by Brooke Lober
Sexism, gendered harassment, and sexual assault are so common in our culture that they constitute norms; the phrase “rape culture” puts a name to this phenomenon. While assault and harassment remain rampant, a renewed sexual conservatism—consonant with the current right-wing power-grab and evacuation of the already ravaged social safety net—reproduces systematic inequity through an overt culture of misogyny, along with the privileging of marriage and monogamous partnership, heterosexuality, and sex/gender normativity. This hierarchy is produced at the expense of sexual outsiders including survivors of rape, abuse, and harassment, who lead the current public outcry on gender-based violence.
For the last forty years and more, feminist and queer movements have arisen to identify and resist the conditions of social subordination that are created through sex and gender hierarchy, while at the same time, these movements propose expansions of sexual freedom and gender self-determination. The current wave of protest and public speech against sexual violence, under the sign of #MeToo, while extraordinary, is not without precedent. But it offers a renewed chance to synthesize a popular framework for freedom through which we can work toward two longstanding feminist goals: freedom from sexual violence, and freedom to enact and celebrate all forms of consensual sexuality. Two feminist actions demonstrate these two aspects of sexual liberty. Since 1975, Take Back the Night marches and rallies have provided space for the outpouring of stories of sexual assault; and since 2011, Slutwalk has offered a site for the reclamation of self-determined sexuality as a public, political, and participatory act. While often emerging as opposed interests, freedom from violence and the struggle for sexual liberation are linked. As Adrienne Marie Brown writes, “Your strong and solid no makes way for your deep, authentic yes.” Feminist movements including women of color feminism, abolition feminism, and the sex-workers’ rights movement all offer possibilities for the integration of freedom from sexual coercion, and the freedom to engage in all consensual forms of sex. The radical imaginaries offered by these movements are crucial for activists who are now considering the next steps for countering omnipresent sexual harassment, abuse, and assault.