Sexuality and Male Dominance

  • Diane Richardson


What is the relationship between sexuality and gender inequality? It is this question which perhaps more than any other has provoked discussion and controversy within feminism. Most feminists would agree that men’s power over women, economically and socially, affects sexual relationships; generally speaking, women have less control in sexual encounters than do their male partners, and are subjected to a double standard of sexual conduct which favours men. Where feminists differ is over the importance accorded to sexuality in understanding women’s oppression. For many radical feminists, sexuality is at the heart of male domination; it is seen as the primary means by which men control women and maintain their power over women in society generally (Dworkin, 1981; MacKinnon, 1982; Coveney et al., 1984). Others, especially socialist feminists, do not regard sexuality as the fundamental cause of women’s oppression, and have criticised this strand of radical feminism for underestimating the significance of other factors, such as women’s unequal position in the labour market and their domestic roles within the family (for example Segal, 1987, 1990a; and Rowbotham, 1990a). Some Black feminists have also suggested that other forms of oppression may be experienced as more significant for Black women (see Chapter 2). Women who stress sexuality as a form of social control have also been criticised for neglecting its pleasures (Vance, 1984).


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Further reading

  1. Feminist Review (ed.), Sexuality: A Reader (London, Virago, 1987). A collection of articles originally published in the British socialist feminist journal, Feminist Review. It includes articles on psychoanalysis, pornography and representation, sexual violence and feminism, and the politics of sexuality.Google Scholar
  2. Sheila Jeffreys, Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution (London, The Women’s Press, 1990). This book concludes that the ‘sexual revolution’, far from bringing liberation and fulfilment, has actually upheld male power and reinforced women’s subordination.Google Scholar
  3. Also useful is the short collection of articles by Lal Coveney, Margaret Jackson, Sheila Jeffreys, Leslie Kaye and Pat Mahony, The Sexuality Papers: Male sexuality and the social control of women (London, Hutchinson, 1984).Google Scholar
  4. Carole S. Vance (ed.), Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984). This book brings together papers and talks given at the controversial Scholar and Feminist IX Conference, ‘Towards a Politics of Sexuality’, held at Barnard College, New York in 1982. It explores sexuality as both pleasure and danger for women, and covers a broad range of topics from a variety of disciplines.Google Scholar
  5. Ann Snitow, Christine Stansell, Sharon Thompson, Desire: The Politics of Sexuality (London, Virago, 1984) is another American anthology which explores a wide range of issues, including heterosexuality, pornography, and the connections between power and desire, as well as the relationship between ‘race’ and class and sexuality.Google Scholar
  6. Carol Anne Douglas, Love and Politics: Radical Feminist and Lesbian Theories (San Francisco, Ism Press, 1990). This book provides an overview of radical and lesbian feminist theoretical positions over the past few decades, and looks at ideas on love and sexuality as well as divisions between feminists on these issues.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Diane Richardson 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Diane Richardson

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