Sheila Jeffreys

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Sheila Jeffreys
Born 1948
Nationality Australian
Occupation Scholar, author, political activist
Employer University of Melbourne
Known for Feminist activism
Religion None

Sheila Jeffreys (born 1948) is a lesbian feminist scholar and political activist, known for her analysis of the history and politics of sexuality in Britain. She is a professor in Political Science at the University of Melbourne in Australia. Jeffreys's argument that the "sexual revolution" on men's terms contributed less to women's freedom than to their continued oppression has both commanded respect and attracted intense criticism.[1][2][3][4] Jeffreys argues that transsexuals reproduce oppressive gender roles and mutilate their bodies through sex reassignment surgery, that lesbian culture has been negatively affected by emulating the sexist influence of the gay male subculture of dominant/submissive sexuality, and that women suffering pain in pursuit of beauty is a form of submission to patriarchal sadism.


In 1979, Jeffreys helped write Love Your Enemy? The Debate Between Heterosexual Feminism and Political Lesbianism. Its authors stated that, "We do think... that all feminists can and should be lesbians. Our definition of a political lesbian is a woman-identified woman who does not fuck men. It does not mean compulsory sexual activity with women."[5]

Jeffreys was one of several contributors to The sexual dynamics of history: men's power, women's resistance, an anthology of feminist writings about gender relations published in 1983 under the name "London Feminist History Group." Jeffreys wrote the chapter on "Sex reform and anti-feminism in the 1920s".[6]

In The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880-1930, published in 1985, Jefreys examines feminist involvement in the Social Purity movement at the turn of the century. In her 1990 work Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution, Jeffreys offered a critique of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.[3]

The Lesbian Heresy was published in 1993.[7] In it Jeffreys criticizes sadomasochistic practices that involved women. One author involved in sadomasochism cites Jeffreys' views in this book as an example of the "simplistic and dualistic thinking" among anti-sadomasochism campaigners, when she describes sadomasochism as "male supremacist", a reenactment of heterosexual male dominance and women's oppression, which glorifies violence and uses women's bodies as a sex aid, and as anti-lesbian and fascistic. The author points out that Jeffreys ignores that some heterosexual women may enjoy sex, and that 'tops' may be women who work hard to give their 'bottoms' pleasure, rather than the passive recipients of sex in the way she describes.[8]

The Industrial Vagina: The Political Economy of the Global Sex Trade, was published in 2009. In it, Jeffreys describes the globalisation of the sex industry, and describes marriage as a form of prostitution. Jeffreys states that "the right of men to women's bodies for sexual use has not gone but remains an assumption at the basis of heterosexual relationships", and draws links between marriage and prostitution, such as mail-order brides, which she sees as a form of trafficking.[9]

Views on transsexualism[edit]

Jeffreys has received attention for her views on transgenderism, transsexualism and gender reassignment. In an interview, Bindel explains that Jeffreys believes transsexual surgery "is an extension of the beauty industry offering cosmetic solutions to deeper rooted problems" and that in a society without gender this would be unnecessary.[5] Jeffreys has presented these views in various forums. In a 1997 article in the Journal of Lesbian Studies, for example, Jeffreys contended that "transsexualism should be seen as a violation of human rights." Jeffreys also argued that "the vast majority of transsexuals still subscribe to the traditional stereotype of women" and that by transitioning medically and socially, trans women are "constructing a conservative fantasy of what women should be. They are inventing an essence of womanhood which is deeply insulting and restrictive."[10]

Jeffreys' opinions on these topics have been challenged by transgender activists. Roz Kaveney, a trans woman and critic of Jeffreys, wrote in The Guardian that Sheila Jeffreys and radical feminists who share her views are "acting like a cult." Kaveney compared Jeffreys' desire to ban transsexual surgery to the Catholic Church's desire to ban abortion, arguing that both proposals bear negative "implications for all women." Finally, Kaveney criticized Jeffreys' and her supporters for alleged "anti-intellectualism, emphasis on innate knowledge, fetishisation of tiny ideological differences, heresy hunting, conspiracy theories, rhetorical use of images of disgust, talk of stabs in the back and romantic apocalypticism."[11]

In April 2014 Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism, a book cowritten by Jeffreys with Lorene Gottschalk, was published.



  • Jeffreys, Sheila. The Sexuality Debates. New York : Routledge & K. Paul, 1987. ISBN 0-7102-0936-3
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Anticlimax: A Feminist Perspective on the Sexual Revolution. Washington Square, N.Y. : New York University Press, 1991. ISBN 0-8147-4179-7 (cloth). ISBN 0-8147-4180-0 (pbk.)
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. The Lesbian Heresy: A Feminist Perspective on the Lesbian Sexual Revolution. North Melbourne : Spinifex, 1993. ISBN 1-875559-17-5
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality, 1880-1930. [New ed.] North Melbourne : Spinifex Press, 1997. ISBN 1-875559-63-9
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. The Idea of Prostitution. North Melbourne, Vic., Australia : Spinifex, 1997. ISBN 1-875-55965-5
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Unpacking Queer Politics: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective. Cambridge : Polity ; Oxford : Blackwell, 2003. ISBN 0-7456-2837-0 (hbk.), ISBN 0-7456-2838-9 (pbk.)
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West. London : Routledge, 2005. ISBN 0-415-35183-9 (hbk.). ISBN 0-415-35182-0 (pbk.)
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. The Industrial Vagina: The Political Economy of the Sex Trade. London : Routledge, 2009. ISBN 0-415-41232-3 (hbk.). ISBN 0-415-41233-1 (pbk.)
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Man's Dominion: The Rise of Religion and the Eclipse of Women's Rights (Routledge Studies in Religion and Politics). London : Routledge, 2010. ISBN 0-415-59674-2
  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism. London : Routledge, 2014. ISBN 0-415-53940-4

Essays and pamphlets[edit]


  1. ^ SAMOIS (1987). Coming to Power: Writings and Graphics on Lesbian S/M. Boston: Alyson Publications. p. 88. ISBN 0-932870-28-7. 
  2. ^ Vance, Carole S. (1992). Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. London: Pandora. p. 302. ISBN 0-04-440867-6. 
  3. ^ a b Gilbert, Harriett. (1993). The Sexual Imagination from Acker to Zola: A Feminist Companion. London: Jonathan Cape. p. 133. ISBN 0-224-03535-5. 
  4. ^ Denfeld, Rene. (1995). The New Victorians: A Young Woman's Challenge to the Old Feminist Order. New York: Warner Books. p. 35. ISBN 1-86373-789-8. 
  5. ^ a b Bindel, Julie (2 July 2005). "The ugly side of beauty". Guardian. 
  6. ^ London Feminist History Group (1983). The Sexual Dynamics of History: Men's power, women's resistance. London: Pluto Press. p. vi. ISBN 0-86104-711-7. 
  7. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (1993). The Lesbian Heresy: A Feminist Perspective on the Lesbian Sexual Revolution. Spinifex Press. 
  8. ^ Stein, Atara (1998-09-28). "'Without Contraries Is No Progression': S/M, Bi-nary Thinking, and the Lesbian Purity Test". In Atkins, Dawn. Lesbian Sex Scandals. Haworth Press (published 1998). p. 53. ISBN 978-0-7890-0548-9. 
  9. ^ Bindel, Julie (12 Nov 2008). "'Marriage is a form of prostitution'". Guardian. 
  10. ^ Jeffreys, Sheila (1997). "Transgender Activism: A Lesbian Feminist Perspective". The Journal of Lesbian Studies. 
  11. ^ Kaveney, Roz (25 May 2012). "Radical feminists are acting like a cult". The Guardian. 

External links[edit]