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Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Women’s Erotic Autonomy: Feminist and Queer-Feminist Critiques of Monogamy

Klesse, C (2018) Toward a Genealogy of a Discourse on Women’s Erotic Autonomy: Feminist and Queer-Feminist Critiques of Monogamy. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 44 (1). pp. 205-231. ISSN 0097-9740


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References to the values of self-ownership and erotic autonomy figure prominently in women's accounts on why they are practicing consensual non-monogamy. Feminist critiques of monogamy demonstrate a long-standing endorsement of the value of erotic autonomy within feminist politics. In this paper, I sketch a genealogy of feminist and queer feminist work that explicitly or implicitly critics compulsory monogamy and/or defends women's non-monogamous ways of life to explore how the nexus of non/monogamy and erotic autonomy has been theorised across different periods and within different strands of feminist politics. I argue that the common concern within this work with systemic oppression, collective struggle and solidarity sustains politicised views of women's erotic autonomy as a relational phenomenon within a multiscalar framework that captures not only intersubjective, but also socio-political dimensions of relationality. Feminist critiques of monogamy thus provide a rich repertoire of political theorising that advocates for the conceptualisation of both autonomy and sexual politics in ways that avoid the shortfalls of individualistic or (liberal) humanistic/intersubjective models. The paper argues that a reappraisal these previous modes of feminist critiques of monogamy would highlight the significance to explore the multiplicity of structural power relations. While much of the early feminist critique of compulsory monogamy has focused on hetero-patriarchal practices of marriage and romantic love, contemporary queer feminist have used intersectional perspectives to highlight the implication of monogamy (or mononormativity) within structural power relations around gender, race, class, and sexuality. This paper aims to underscore the prominence of feminist and queer-feminist voices within the debates on nonmonogamy, contribute to restoring a focus on autonomy within feminist theorising and highlight the relevance of distinctly feminist and queer-feminist notions of relational autonomy for sexual politics and ethics.

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