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Judging Women’s Sexual Agency: Contemporary Sex Wars in the Legal Terrain of Prostitution and Polygamy

Dr. Melanie Heath , former McMaster PhD student Jessica Braimoh, and McMaster doctoral candidate Julie Gouweloos have published: Melanie Heath, Jessica Braimoh, and Julie Gouweloos. 2016. "Judging Women’s Sexual Agency: Contemporary Sex Wars in the Legal Terrain of Prostitution and Polygamy," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 42(1): 199-225.

Sep 05, 2016

"Judging Women’s Sexual Agency: Contemporary Sex Wars in the Legal Terrain of Prostitution and Polygamy," Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 42(1): 199-225. Their article provides a content analysis of legal documents of the Supreme Court prostitution and polygamy cases in Canada to provide insight into the current political terrain of the sex wars to examine the mechanisms within legal structures that regulate conceptions of women’s sexual agency.

Abstract:

The legal arena has been a major site for battles over questions of sexuality. Feminists have often looked to the law to decide contests over women’s sexual agency, pitting feminists against each other over issues such as prostitution. This article compares two legal cases in Canada, one on prostitution and one on polygamy, to shed light on the relationship between state legal apparatuses and the feminist actors who engage them. The discursive strategies of the actors in the prostitution case coalesce along the familiar lines of the feminist sex wars. The “danger stance” views prostitution as an injustice forced upon women who have no other alternatives; the “choice stance” contends that prostitution is not inherently grounded in the exploitation of women. Likewise, the discursive strategies of actors in the polygamy case—a very different context for thinking about women’s agency—reflect a similar divide. Through an analysis of legal documents, this article considers the strange bedfellows in the prostitution and polygamy cases to provide insight into the current political terrain of the sex wars. Our analysis sheds light on the mechanisms within legal structures that regulate conceptions of women’s sexual agency.

 

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