2017_reseachmonth_logo-150by150Ummni Khan, Professor of Law and Legal Studies
Pauline Jewett Joint Chair in Women’s Studies at Carleton University and University of Ottawa

Professor Ummni Khan was an undergraduate at Concordia University when she first encountered the feminist “sex wars” that rocked the feminist movement throughout the 1970’s and 80’s. Feminists clashed over issues of feminist identity, pornography, sado-masochism, butch and femme identity, and sex work. Professor Khan studies the evolution of these debates today.

“Radical feminists were convinced that criminalizing pornography was a key—if not the key—to ending the objectification of women,” says Professor Khan, who is the current Joint Chair in Women and Gender studies, and an Associate Professor in the Department of Law and Legal Studies. “There’s a puritanism that runs through this brand of feminism that rests on sexual exceptionalism. The idea is sex is sacred.  So it follows that graphic representations of sex must inherently be degrading and harmful to women.”

These are among topics that will be explored at the FPA Research Excellence Symposium on February 27, entitled, Sex Wars and Erotic Empowerment. As the 2016 winner of the FPA Research Excellence Award, Professor Khan is hosting the symposium at Carleton University, which will strive to fill in the gaps in the history of Canada’s feminist movement.

“I hope to fill in the history of Canadian debates around porn, erotica, and expression and to discuss ways in which those with marginalized identities have used erotica as a source of pleasure and empowerment,” she explains. “I’m concerned about the lack of representation of diverse sexual interests, bodies and identities.”

As a law professor and the author of Vicarious Kinks: Sadomasochism in the Socio-Legal Imaginary, Khan questions the use of the state to police sexuality.

“We need to ask what happens when the state is the arbiter of what is right and wrong. Does criminalization help women? Does it help sex workers? The empirical evidence suggests that it doesn’t,” says Professor Khan. “Even if it’s the most misogynistic thing in the world, it does not follow that it should be criminalized.”

While she acknowledges that the subject matter is controversial, Professor Khan contends that the use of the criminal justice system as a deterrent to unconventional or unpopular sexual behavior warrants closer examination.

Professor Khan will host the FPA Research Excellence Symposium on February 27th as part of FPA Research Month. More information is available here.

Friday, December 9, 2016 in
Share: Twitter, Facebook