Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality, Volume 3, February 16, 2000


Book Review

Sexuality, Society, and Feminism
 Editors: Cheryl Brown Travis & Jacquelyn W. White (2000)
American Psychological Association. 432 Pages, USA $49.95 (hardcover)
ISBN: 1-55798-617-7
Reviewed by Annette Fuglsang Owens, MD PhD
To buy this book, see link at bottom of review.

Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 Social Construction of Sexuality: Unpacking Hidden Meanings
  Jacquelyn W. White, Barrie Bondurant, and Cheryl Brown Travis

Chapter 2 Biological Models and Sexual Politics
  Danny S. More and Cheryl Brown Travis

Chapter 3 Gender Differences in Sexuality: Results from Meta-Analysis
  Janet Shibley Hyde and Mary Beth Oliver

Chapter 4 The Social Construction and Social Effects of Sex Research:
  The Sexological Model of Sexuality
  Leonore Tiefer

Chapter 5 A Normative Perspective of Adolescent Girl's Developing Sexuality
  Deborah P. Welsh, Sharon S. Rostosky, and Myra Christen Kawaguchi

Chapter 6 Sexual Roles of Girls and Women: An Ethnocultural Lifespan Perspective
  Pamela Trotman Reid and Vanessa M. Bing

Chapter 7 Sexuality During Pregnancy and the Year Postpartum
  Janet Shibley Hyde and John DeLamater

Chapter 8 Menopause and Sexuality:Ageism and Sexism Unite
  Sharon S. Rostosky and Cheryl Brown Travis

Chapter 9 Only Joking: Humor and Sexuality
  Mary Crawford

Chapter 10 Beauty, Sexuality, and Identity: The Social Control of Women
  Cheryl Brown Travis, Kayce L. Meginnis, and Kristin M.Bardari

Chapter 11 Dangerousness, Impotence, Silence, and Invisibility: Heterosexism in the Construction of Women's Sexuality
  Laura S. Brown

Chapter 12 A Cultural Context for Sexual Assertiveness in Women
  Patricia J. Morokoff

Chapter 13 Consent, Power, and Sexual Scripts: Deconstructing Sexual Harassment
  Suzanne B. Kurth, Bethany B. Spiller, and Cheryl Brown Travis

Chapter 14 Re-Examining the Issue of Nonconsent in Acquaintance Rape
  Patricia L. N. Donat and Jacquelyn W. White

Chapter 15 Understanding the Unacknowledged Rape Victim
  Arnold S. Kahn and Virginia Andreoli Mathie

Editors and Contributors:
 Editors are Cheryl Brown Travis, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Jacquelyn W. White, PhD, professor of psychology and director of women's studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Dr. Travis' extensive background in female health and psychology is complemented by Dr. White's knowledge on gender issues and aggression. A number of outstanding contributors have been gathered, producing a rich source of information regarding current women's issues.

The Books Audience:
 Sexuality, Society, and Feminism appeals to a broad audience ranging from readers interested in sociology, cultural diversity, social work, and women's studies to those focusing on psychology, medicine, and other health sciences. A quick look at the table of contents demonstrates the broad area of topics discussed. Even an intriguing chapter on humor and sexuality is included.

General Comments:
 This compilation of essays will serve as an important tool in current debates and it may evolve as an historic document describing the status quo of female issues at the beginning of the 21st century. Sexuality is viewed from a feminist perspective. I was impressed with the depth and expertise revealed in the various chapters. A wealth of information is presented and up-to-date reference lists provide rich sources for further reading. Results of past and current studies are critically reviewed while directions for future research are pointed out. Cultural diversity with respect to myths, morals and practices are described throughout the book and are the focus of Chapter 12. A wide spectrum of feminist issues is covered making it impossible for me to comment on each separate chapter in the context of this book review. Instead, I will highlight below some of the issues which I found particularly stimulating.

Female Development Through the Life Cycle: From Adolescence to Menopause

Section II, Life Course Developments, paints a detailed picture of women's development from adolescence until post-menopause, including pregnancy and the first post-natal year. At several stages during this development the female is not only affected by physiological hormone changes from within, but she simultaneously experiences a variety of external social and cultural influences and expectations. In our Western culture some of these phases in a woman's life cycle are frequently pathologized in research and in our social views. Instead of accepting a changing and developing hormone status as normal and healthy, different phases in a woman's life are turned into medical problems which in turn demand remedies.

 Adolescence is often viewed as problematic since the young woman's developing sexuality is automatically thought to herald
sexual intercourse and thus a risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. At the other end of the developmental spectrum, menopause is equally or even more pathologized. Our Western culture focuses on deficiencies and diseases such as
pelvic atrophy, ovarian dysfunction, estrogen deprivation, etc. Many women are seeking medical help in order to restore their hormones. This stands in sharp contrast to men, who's hormonal changes known to take place in mid-life are not pathologized to the same degree.

 This pathology oriented perspective of adolescence and menopause prevents an understanding of a woman's different life stages as being normal and healthy. In this context it is notable how different menopause is perceived in other cultures. Recent
studies on Japanese, Mayan, African, and Indian women are reviewed, and it becomes clear that biology and culture strongly interact creating diverse experiences of menopause. "Women in non-Western, non-industrialized cultures, in which the
mother-in-law role is associated with increased power and status, associate menopause with increased freedom, sexual satisfaction, and frank relief that childbearing is over.....Some cultures even lack the supposed universal symptom of menopause - the hot flash."

 Originating from Denmark, I have often been asked why the teen-pregnancy rates in Europe are so much lower than in the Unites States. One of my arguments has always been that teenagers in the Scandinavian culture are raised with an emphasis on learning to take responsibility for their own lives. Adolescence is viewed not so much as a problem but rather as a fact which has to be accepted by everyone and dealt with by the individual. This applies to both young men and women who learn to be responsible adults. The decision to either practice abstinence and to postpone sexual activity or to include safe-sex measures then comes from the adolescent himself or herself and not as a ruling from above.

Sexual Harassment and Rape

Section IV, Sexuality and the Social Order, raises the issues of sexual harassment and rape. Cultural differences and even time-related differences within our own culture are reviewed. During Colonial times rape was considered a crime against the man who "owned" the woman, whether her father or her husband. In the 19th century, a woman who was raped was considered impure. During the following 20th century it was assumed that a woman who had been raped had contributed to her own victimization. Not until the 1970's was rape reconceptualized as a means of intimidating and controlling women. Rape no longer was defined only as a physical and emotional violation of a woman by a stranger, but other men known to the victim might also use rape as a means of control. From this redefinition of the term "rape" emerged the new phrases of "date rape," "acquaintance rape," and "marital rape."

 Chapter 15 examines why some women have had experiences that would legally be classified as rape, yet do not consider themselves rape victims (unacknowledged rape victims).  When a person thinks about the events that make up the experience of rape, usually one of two distinct rape scripts emerge: 1) The acquaintance rape script in which the assault takes place in-doors, involves a known assailant, and includes little force. 2) The stranger rape script which entails a violent attack out-doors by an unknown man possibly using a weapon.

Unacknowledged rape victims distinguish themselves from acknowledged rape victims in a number of ways, including the nature of their rape script (stranger rape script versus acquaintance rape script), the amount of force experienced, the amount of negative affect and feelings of victimization experienced during and after the rape, whether she used alcohol or drugs prior to the rape, and the influence of peers following the rape. It becomes clear that two women who have had nearly identical rape situations may each perceive the events in completely different ways depending on their own values and beliefs and on the reactions of their peers.

 Chapter 15 concludes with a vision for future research: "From a qualitative perspective, we need to expand our knowledge of the dominant discourses in our society, particularly of those dealing with relationships between women and men. Analyses of men's dominant discourses and how their shared beliefs and values compare with those of women would be useful. This research could shed light on the reasons men engage in sexual intercourse after a woman has indicated she does not want to participate. Perhaps through research of this sort, women and men can come to share common dominant discourses about love, sex, and relationships such that all nonconsensual sex is acknowledged as rape."


Whether used as a reference book or read cover to cover, Sexuality, Society, and Feminism will attract wide audiences. Besides providing a detailed analysis of past and current feminist issues, this book may play an important role in setting new trends for future research in the new millennium. It may encourage society as a whole to adopt more feminist views which in turn will influence current morals, ethics, and myths. As Patricia J. Morokoff concludes in Chapter 12: "We have something
to look forward to."

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