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Moral Panics, Sex Panics

Moral Panics, Sex Panics: Fear and the Fight over Sexual Rights

Edited by Gilbert Herdt
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Moral Panics, Sex Panics
    Book Description:

    Finalist for 2010 LGBT Anthology Award from the Lambda Literary AwardsUnwed teen mothers, abortion, masturbation, pornography, gay marriage, sex trafficking, homosexuality, and HIV are just a few in a long line of issues that have erupted into panics. These sexual panics spark moral crusades and campaigns, defining and shaping how we think about sexual and reproductive rights. The essays in Moral Panics, Sex Panics focus on case studies ranging from sex education to AIDS to race and the "down low," to illustrate how sexuality is at the heart of many political controversies. The contributors also reveal how moral and sexual panics have become a mainstay of certain kinds of conservative efforts to win elections and gain power in moral, social, and political arenas. Moral Panics, Sex Panics provides new and important insights into the role that key moral panics have played in social processes, arguing forcefully against the political abuse of sex panics and for the need to defend full sexual and reproductive rights.Contributors: Cathy J. Cohen, Diane DiMauro, Gary W. Dowsett, Janice M. Irvine, Carole Joffe, and Saskia Eleonora Wieringa.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-9084-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Gilbert Herdt
  4. 1 Introduction: Moral Panics, Sexual Rights, and Cultural Anger
    (pp. 1-46)
    Gilbert Herdt

    Moral panics are the natural disasters of human society, and, like tsunamis and hurricanes, they not only present a crisis for stable social order but also contain much that threatens the well-being of individuals and communities.¹ The social context of moral panics, the sense in which individuals and groups are perceived to pose a threat, the political invention and mobilization of this risk in the media and imagination, and whether these panics are spontaneous or socially generated, have long been debated. Such panics and great fears can be short or long term. However, the more serious they are and the...

  5. 2 The Religious Right and the Reshaping of Sexual Policy: Reproductive Rights and Sexuality Education during the Bush Years
    (pp. 47-103)
    Diane di Mauro and Carole Joffe

    This chapter chronicles the impact on sexuality policy in the United States of the rise of the religious right as a significant force in American politics. Using a case study analysis of abortion-reproductive rights and sexuality education, it narrates the story of how U.S. policy debates and practices have changed since the 1970s as sexual conservatism rose in prominence and sexual progressives declined in power. We argue that these developments were especially evident during the presidency of George W. Bush. The religious right’s appeal to traditional moral values and its ability to create moral panics about sexuality are addressed, specifically...

  6. 3 Black Sexuality, Indigenous Moral Panics, and Respectability: From Bill Cosby to the Down Low
    (pp. 104-129)
    Cathy J. Cohen

    I promised myself that I would no longer discuss the ranting and raving of Bill cosby that occurred over four years ago. For those who do not remember, it was May 17, 2004 when Bill cosby, speaking at constitution Hall in Washington D.c. at a commemoration of the 50th anniversary ofBrown v. Board of Education, began his attack on poor black people and black youth. Actually, cosby’s comments were largely focused on the issue of faulty parenting among the black poor; however, at the center of his disgust were poor black children and black young people whom he characterized...

  7. 4 The “Gay Plague” Revisited: AIDS and Its Enduring Moral Panic
    (pp. 130-156)
    Gary W. Dowsett

    There is and has always been a kind of moral panic surrounding HIV/AIDS as a social phenomenon, and that moral panic mostly concerns sexuality generally and homosexuality in particular. HIV/AIDS speaks directly to our confusion about sex, and it especially brings into focus our decided ambivalence about homosexuality. While male-to-male sexual transmission of HIV is not the only means of infection, all forms of transmission carry with them some suspicion of deviancy, a deviancy shaped originally by the first “fallen man” in the epidemic—the homosexual, that is, the “original” sexual deviant in the modern history of sexuality. The discovery...

  8. 5 Gay Marriage: The Panic and the Right
    (pp. 157-204)
    Gilbert Herdt

    The great fear of “gay marriage” in the United States is associated in many people’s minds with the radiant faces of the thousands of lesbian and gay couples standing on the steps of city hall in San Francisco, waiting to be married by Mayor Gavin newsom. It was early 2004 and the mayor himself instructed the press that he was spurred on to this revolutionary act by reaction to President George W. Bush’s January 20, 2004, State of the Union address. In the president’s speech he had referred to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that restricts marriage to...

  9. 6 Postcolonial Amnesia: Sexual Moral Panics, Memory, and Imperial Power
    (pp. 205-233)
    Saskia Eleonora Wieringa

    Sexual moral panics were an important motor for the establishment of imperial power in the late 18th, the 19th, and the early 20th centuries. Likewise, such panics have been used to establish or uphold dictatorial postcolonial regimes, such as “new order” Indonesia or present-day Zimbabwe. Postcolonial states have drawn on the memories of these colonial and postcolonial panics, as they have been etched into the collective unconsciousness of their subjects. In the process, the memories of certain sexual practices, cultures, or norms, specifically related to women’s sexual agency and same-sex practices got lost, leading to a postcolonial amnesia on these...

  10. 7 Transient Feelings: Sex Panics and the Politics of Emotions
    (pp. 234-276)
    Janice M. Irvine

    Throughout the 1990s, during my field research into conflicts over sexuality education, I was initially riveted by what I found—public discussions that flared into furious arguments. neighbors hurled epithets such as “fascist” and “Mccarthyite” at each other, while school board meetings went from sleepy affairs to late-night shouting matches involving hundreds of residents. Adrenaline buzzed throughout public meetings, all of us alert to the next outburst. School board members told me about receiving death threats, being spit on, and having tires slashed. After explosive meetings they received police escorts to their cars. one prominent sex education foe collapsed from...

  11. About the Contributors
    (pp. 277-278)
  12. Index
    (pp. 279-294)