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Anticlimax: A feminist perspective on the sexual revolution by Sheila Jeffreys (first published in 1990 with this second edition published in 2011) sets out to argue that the so called sexual revolution did in fact not free women to experience sexual pleasure in their own way or to "own" their sexuality. Instead Jeffreys claims that: "Enlightenment was expected to eliminate inhibitions, reservations, and feelings of disquiet on the part of women and children about their experience of male sexual behaviour" (p. 96) and that: "The sexual revolution completed the sexualisation of women. Both married and unmarried women were expected now to become experts in sexually servicing men, and to get over their own tastes and interests in order to become efficient at this task" (p. 109).
Jeffreys claims that the expectations of normal and acceptable sexual behaviors, arising from the so called sexual revolution, was created by a fairly small number of (predominantly) men who viewed themselves as experts on sex and sexual behaviors (sexperts). In the creation of what was considered normal and acceptable, sexual behaviors and preferences that were considered sexy to men, were in fact damaging, sexist and unfair to women. Women, and children, were being told, taught, and expected to sexually service men and to obey the sexual inclinations of men.
Some of the results of the sexual revolution, Jeffreys claims, were the emphasis on, and support of decensorship, pornography, necrophilia, sadomasochism and paedophilia (to name a few). For example, Jeffreys shows the reader how material from the sexual revolution created concepts such as that of a Lolita (from the book with the same name): a seductive child who entrapped adult males and forced them to engage sexually with the child. The concept of a Lolita gained credibility with a large number of males and led many to sympathize with the adult offender instead of the child. Jeffreys also explains how a distorted view of children and children's supposed sexuality came about as a result of some of the material produced in the name of sexual freedom. Here Jeffreys points to paedophilic groups and their claim to support children's rights to a "free" sexuality. Adult males were seen as educators on sexual behavior and practices and children were believed to want sexual attention.
This is just one of the topics that Jeffreys covers, and to me perhaps the most infuriating, as Jeffreys points out, because the concept of power imbalance between adult males and young children were rarely mentioned, or presented as an issue. Jeffreys also talks about stereotypical femininity and masculinity, sexual abuse and violence, normalized aggression, transsexualism and much more.
Anticlimax is the most impressing and critical book that I have read in a long time. Jeffreys is clear, concise, smart, and critical and in all this incorporates a dark sense of humor that I truly appreciate. She delivers strong arguments that are difficult to disprove or argue against.
I feel that it is necessary to point out to future readers that the book might be upsetting, and even traumatic, to survivors of violence and sexual violence. The book does not include a content notice, or a trigger warning, and I do believe that it perhaps should. Some of the quotes and studies presented by Jeffreys are incredibly explicit, crude, upsetting and sexually violent. In order to prove her point, Jeffreys has to include information such as this, and she does so very well. Despite this, readers that have had previous violent experiences might need to know this before setting out to read the book.
Anticlimax is a great book to use in classroom settings and I wish it would have been mandatory reading in my Women's Studies classes or in the classes I took that discussed sexuality. It is perhaps not a book well suited for introductory classes since it is at times challenging, but each section or chapter could also be pulled and read separately to make for easier reading.
© 2013 Elin Weiss
Elin Weiss has a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology and a Master's Degree in Women's Studies from University College Dublin, Ireland.