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Author of the Month: Shira Tarrant

Published: October 1, 2015

Gender, Sex and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century

Shira Tarrant, professor, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies

Newly arrived in July from Routledge, the 360-page Gender, Sex and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century includes 27 chapters organized into five sections: gender, sexuality and social control; pornography; sex and social media; dating, desire and the politics of hooking up; and issues in sexual pleasure and safety. The anthology presents these topics using a point-counterpoint-different-point framework. Its arguments and perspectives do not pit writers against each other in a binary pro/con debate format. Instead, a variety of views are juxtaposed to encourage critical thinking and robust conversation. This framework enables readers to assess the strengths and shortcomings of conflicting ideas. “We see a lot of people being angry and hostile while commenting on TV,” said Tarrant. ”This feeling infuses classrooms and political discussions. But one of my interests is in providing a model and an example of how we can disagree but learn more.” Gender, Sex and Politics: In the Streets and Between the Sheets in the 21st Century differs from Tarrant’s previous book, Fashion Talks: Undressing the Power of Style, in its mood. “The difference between the books is anger,” she said. “People don’t get angry about fashion the same way they do about sexual assault, abortion and pornography. The topics in the new book tend to be more heated.” Each chapter has its own priority. “I opened the book with a chapter about street harassment because the piece is accessible and written from a first-person perspective,” she said. “I thought readers would be engaged from the get-go. Immediately after is a chapter that critiques the embedded racism of some of the organized activism around street harassment and sexual violence—specifically, the global SlutWalk movement. It immediately engages in controversy and conflict.” The collection was authored by scholars and activists engaged in various issues. “These issues include abortion and how we talk to each other when we disagree,” said Tarrant. “Topics also include concerns about campus sexual assault, victims’ rights and the simultaneous importance of due process for the accused. There are chapters about transgender politics and online social media. For instance, online social media are places where participants can be attacked, where suicides can result and where photos of sexual violence can be passed around. Far more positively, social media and online sources also can be places where people can find community. This book offers a range of perspectives on various topics.” The book is so contemporary that many of the issues were not even discussed 10 years ago. “I hope we

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solve a lot of these problems so the essays won’t be contemporary 10 years from now,” she said. “What is different about this collection of essays is the way it addresses different issues with various perspectives. The section on pornography, for example, includes arguments about misogyny and sexism, and also about porn as a legitimate subject for study on university campuses. Juxtaposed with these chapters is an essay written from the perspective of a queer male performer. Some subjects we’ve discussed for a long time, like reproductive justice and dating and BDSM. But it is so hard to come together across ideological divides in order to house all these perspectives in one collection.” Tarrant encourages potential readers to look at the table of contents first. “We’re talking about gender, sex and politics. There’s got to be something in the line-up that catches people’s attention. I would be surprised if these topics didn’t appeal to many readers,” she said. Tarrant earned her B.A. in political science in 1989 from CSULB and her M.A. and Ph.D. in political science from UCLA in 2001 before joining CSULB as a faculty member in 2006.