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"Social Scripts and Sexual Oppression" - Tom Dougherty (UNC Chapel Hill)

Tom Dougherty
Tom Dougherty
UNC Chapel Hill
Peabody Hall, Room 115

Social scripts specify the normal way for people to interact in certain situations. For example, a social script for a restaurant conversation explains why the world over, these conversations take a similar form. In this essay, I discuss how social scripts can be oppressive by constraining people’s sexual behavior. Specifically, I discuss how social scripts can explain why people voluntarily take part in sexual encounters that they would ideally like to avoid. In particular, I here focus on a linear script for heteronormative sexual encounters that escalate in intimacy and terminate in male orgasm. I explain how a script like this can constrain people’s sexual agency in ways that constitute a form of sexual oppression. I then show how this oppression could be ameliorated by alternative social scripts. For example, in conjunction with changes to other ancillary social norms, people would be more empowered if they had social scripts for using safe-words to end sexual encounters, or if their social scripts normalized encounters in which people engage in e.g. flirting or kissing without this escalating into intimate sexual activity.


Tom Dougherty is an Associate Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. They research moral and political philosophy, with a particular interest in normative ethics. Recently, they have has written several articles on the ethics of consent, which have been published in journals such as NousPhilosophy and Public Affairs, andEthics, and a monograph, The Scope of Consent, which has been published by Oxford University Press. They are originally from the United Kingdom, received their PhD from MIT in 2010, and have worked previously at Stanford University, the University of Sydney, and the University of Cambridge. 

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