How Sex Became a Civil Liberty

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9780199754236: How Sex Became a Civil Liberty

How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is the first book to show how and why we have come to see sexual expression, sexual practice, and sexual privacy as fundamental rights. Using rich archival sources and oral interviews, historian Leigh Ann Wheeler shows how the private lives of women and men in the American Civil Liberties Union shaped their understanding of sexual rights as they built the constitutional foundation for the twentieth-century's sexual revolutions.

Wheeler introduces readers to a number of fascinating figures, including ACLU founders Crystal Eastman and Roger Baldwin; nudists, victims of involuntary sterilization, and others who appealed to the organization for help; as well as attorneys like Dorothy Kenyon, Harriet Pilpel, and Melvin Wulf, who pushed the ACLU to tackle such controversial issues as abortion and homosexuality. It demonstrates how their work with the American Birth Control League, Planned Parenthood Federation, Kinsey Institute, Playboy magazine, and other organizations influenced the ACLU's agenda.

Wheeler explores the ACLU's prominent role in nearly every major court decision related to sexuality while examining how the ACLU also promoted its agenda through grassroots activism, political action, and public education. She shows how the ACLU helped to collapse distinctions between public and private in ways that privileged access to sexual expression over protection from it. Thanks largely to the organization's work, abortion and birth control are legal, coerced sterilization is rare, sexually explicit material is readily available, and gay rights are becoming a reality. But this book does not simply applaud the creation of a sex-saturated culture and the arming of citizens with sexual rights; it shows how hard-won rights for some often impinged upon freedoms held dear by others.

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About the Author:


Leigh Ann Wheeler is Professor of History at Binghamton University. She is co-editor of the Journal of Women's History and the author of Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935.

Review:


"Appropriate for both graduate and undergraduate courses, this text employs a rigorous historiographical approach to understanding the development and evolution of sexual civil liberties. Furthermore, Wheeler's oral history methodology provides greater detail about the individuals who shaped not only the ACLU as an organization, but the ways in which we currently understand sexuality in this country."--Oral History Review


"Wheeler brings fresh analytical perspective and an impressive research base to the book, making How Sex Became a Civil Liberty essential reading not just for historians of sexuality or law but also for those interested in broader questions of equality, democracy, and the evolving conceptualization of rights in modern America."--Whitney Strub, Journal of American History


"In an era where decades-old cultural battles continue to rage in shifting arenas, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is an insightful and timely look into the people and forces that turned sex from an issue outside the political discourse into a fundamental
component of liberty." --Harvard Law Review


"Who would have thought a book about the ACLU could be so titillating? This book presents an interesting discussion from a unique perspective of the reasons behind the ACLU's adoption of positions that affect our lives today, delving into the story behind the American Civil Liberties Union's decision to pursue a privacy right argument on birth control, rape, sexual harassment, and gay rights.Timely and well written, this book introduces the reader to the story of how Americans gained a right to privacy under the United States Constitution." --Joan Burda, New York Journal of Books


"Leigh Ann Wheeler breaks new ground in this fascinating and meticulously researched history of the ACLU's 'sexual rights odyssey.' Her book offers a compelling narrative that illuminates some of the most significant political and cultural issues of the twentieth century. Each chapter stands on its own as a great story in and of itself, full of intriguing figures, pitched battles, misguided strategies, and groundbreaking ideas .Her insightful and accessible analysis enriches our understanding of legal history, the history of sexuality, and social and cultural history and will be valuable to scholars and students in these fields." --Robyn L. Rose, Social Forces


"Fascinating and important ."-Amy L. Wax, First Things


"Leigh Ann Wheeler's impressive book examines the evolution of ACLU policies toward birth control, abortion, pornography, rape, sexual harassment, and gay rights, contextualized within larger themes of changing notions of privacy, consumer rights, and free speech .As the current gay marriage debate reminds us, sexual rights are an always-moving target, so Wheeler's careful explication of the constant rebalancing of changing sexual values and enduring Bill of Rights principles is a welcome framework on which to hang both America's sexual history and present debates." --Judy Kutulas, American Historical Review


"In a landmark treatise, Leigh Ann Wheeler traces the path of America's premier constitutional defender of free speech as it faced successive decades of new issues and equality movements: birth control; civil rights; feminist campaigns against sexual violence and harassment; gay rights; hate speech. Her meticulous account of the ACLU's internal struggles as it tried to embrace new approaches in law while remaining faithful to its original mission illuminates a host of sticky, ambivalent arguments and amicus briefs in which the right of privacy that the ACLU had championed appeared malleable while hardcore pornography in the workplace and online was protected with vigor. This is a thoughtful book for thoughtful people in a democracy where rights and liberties often collide."
--Susan Brownmiller, author of Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape


"In this thorough and compelling study, Leigh Ann Wheeler shows how men and women who themselves struggled to balance sexual freedom and sexual equality profoundly shaped our understandings of the Constitution, including the right to privacy. Paying close attention to conflicts among civil libertarians, she traces the evolution of the concept of sexual rights over the twentieth century, as the ACLU tackled subjects ranging from birth control to pornography, from gay rights to rape and sexual harassment. Clearly written and persuasively argued, this book makes a major contribution to the history of sexuality as well as to the history of law and society." --Estelle B. Freedman, co-author of Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America


"From campaigns to legalize birth control to debates over nudism, erotica, gay rights, and women's equality, Wheeler tracks the internal workings of the American Civil Liberties Union and shows us how sexuality came to serve as a critical test case for free speech, consumer rights, and the right to privacy. A deeply researched, lucidly argued, and wholly engaging history of how modern Americans defined and defended freedom of sexual expression."--Joanne Meyerowitz, author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States


"Sex became a civil liberty in this country between the 1920s and today. This development transformed the law and enormously expanded our choices in how we lead our private and public lives. Leigh Ann Wheeler's fascinating and richly detailed account explores the contingencies of people and organizations, of debates, and of roads not taken in favor of those that were chosen. This book is a major contribution to our understanding of the social history of sexuality in America." --Samuel Walker, author of Presidents and Civil Liberties from Wilson to Obama: A Story of Poor Custodians


"[A] fascinating account of the ACLU's wildly successful efforts, since its founding almost 100 years ago, to bring sex under the purview of the Bill of Rights." --Reason


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Book Description Oxford University Press Inc, United States, 2012. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . This book usually ship within 10-15 business days and we will endeavor to dispatch orders quicker than this where possible. Brand New Book. Sexual revolutions have transformed American culture, society, and politics-not to mention individual lives-throughout the twentieth century. Sex radicals challenged Victorian restraint and championed sexual liberation. In the process, they confronted a tightly knit web of legal restrictions on sexual expression and conduct designed to keep sex out of the public realm and to allow public officials to police sex in private spaces. The American Civil Liberties Union has stood at the center of these battles, using the Constitution to create an expansive body of sexual rights that helped lay the old order to rest. How Sex Became a Civil Liberty is the first book to show how ACLU leaders and attorneys forged legal principles that advanced the sexual revolution. It explains how, why, and to what effect ACLU activists developed and revised their own policies, adopted sexual expression and practice as civil liberties, persuaded courts to do the same, and joined with commercial media and others to promote these understandings of sexuality to a broader public. Through its influence over public discourse as well as law, the ACLU helped to establish a liberal, rights-based sexual ethos in the United States. It played a prominent role in nearly every major court decision related to sexuality and also reached beyond the courtroom to promote its agenda through grassroots activism, political action, advertising campaigns, and public education. Thanks to its work, abortion and birth control are legal, coerced sterilization is rare, sexually explicit material is readily available, and gay rights are becoming a reality. Using rich archival sources and interviews with major players, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty tells the story of the men and women who built the legal foundation for the sexual revolution. It explores how private lives shaped approaches to public policy and illuminates the importance of debates among activists-as well as between activists and their opponents-in shaping what we now consider to be our sexual rights. A story of tragedy as well as of triumph, How Sex Became a Civil Liberty shows how the ACLU helped to create our polarized sexual culture by collapsing old distinctions between public and private and privileging access to sexual expression over protection from it. Realizing how the result-a culture saturated with sex and a citizenry armed with sexual rights-liberates and also limits our sexual choices could help to transform fights over rights into productive conversations about how to shape the public world we share. Bookseller Inventory # BTE9780199754236

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