Sex: An Unapologetic Conversation

The fourth wave of feminism has brought with it a new focus on the complicated power dynamics of sex and abusive relationships, along with a new understanding of how social media can be used to empower women and feminist movements. This exhibit, “Sex: An Unapologetic Conversation,” will focus on the good, the bad, the ugly, and the uncomfortable of all things sex. Visitors to this exhibit will learn about the conversation started by fourth-wave feminists surrounding positive and negative sexual experiences of women in the last decade and the power that the societal discourse around sex holds. There has been an academically recognized fourth wave of feminism throughout our research process that we are defining as spanning the time period of 2010-2021. While this is the current time period being explored, this timeframe will almost certainly change in the future as the definition of the fourth wave of feminism is more understood. We believe that the most defining principle of the fourth wave of feminism that sets it apart from the past waves is this open conversation about sex that is occuring not just in private, but on social media and in the public view. While we do not agree with the wave structure, it is too integrated into this topic and widely used by researchers that it is necessary to use when discussing this topic. The societal discourse around sex is a multifaceted conversation. On one hand, we see liberation within the dialogue surrounding sex. More than ever before, people are becoming empowered by their sexuality and confronting the taboo nature of sex. But the conversation is not always freeing, and society still must face the reality that the power of sex can be abused through sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence.

This research will focus on four different areas of this conversation. First, we will discuss how consciousness-raising has evolved during the fourth wave of feminism, the topics that are being prioritized, and the ways it is sparking social justice movements around the world. In the second section, we will examine how college-aged women are using Title IX to fight against sexual assault and harassment on their campuses. In recent years, college women have taken the forefront of the conversation around sex in an attempt to reshape the current harmful culture of sexual abuse that exists on college campuses. This section will focus on defining and explaining how Title IX works, how college campuses teach their students about Title IX and consent, and how young women are working to change the minds of men on campus to understand that only ‘yes means yes’. In the third section, we will analyze how professional women experience sexual harassment and the power differentials that exist in this environment. Workplace sexual harassment is an abuse of power, whether it is through organizational authority or assertion of individual dominance. Present-day, women have grown more confident to speak out against sexual harassment largely through the #MeToo movement, whereas in the past many remained silent. This section will focus on the disparities of power in workplace sexual harassment and the rise in awareness through the #MeToo movement. The fourth section will discuss changing the narrative of domestic violence to align the definitions and standards surrounding action and legislation for victims. Over our chosen timeframe, the academic and social definitions of domestic violence have changed to include more nonphysical acts of violence. However, legislation has been changed back and forth to include more or fewer types of domestic abuse, lacking consistency or clarity as to the true legal definition. Additionally, this section will address how domestic violence affects all people but can affect groups of people differently, such as women vs. men, minority groups, gender queer and transgender individuals. Finally, this exhibit will end with an examination of how consciousness-raising efforts of young people have changed feminism through their conversations about sex, and empower the reader to seek out consciousness-raising conversations in their own life.

While our project is focused on how women experience sexual power dynamics, mainly between men and women, we recognize that this sexual power can be used to harm people of all genders and sexualities. The abuse of sex disproportionately affects people of color, poor people, and queer folks. This exhibit will focus on the 2010-2021 period, which we will call the fourth wave of feminism. We understand that categorizing an entire movement into waves can be problematic, but using the fourth wave interchangeably to the 2010-2021 time period will be convenient and easier for both the reader and writers of this project. We hope visitors to this site will learn that women are reclaiming power over sex and the dialogue around sex in our society. We implore you to self-reflect on the effect of sexual power in your own life and your sexual liberation journey. This topic should no longer be taboo, it should be an open and unapologetic conversation.

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