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Sexed: A History of British Feminism

Sexed argues that an extraordinary resurgence of feminism is currently taking place in the UK, and seeks to understand this renewed women's movement historically. In particular, it unearths ideas and arguments about the relevance of sexual difference to feminist advocacy - and the fascinating women who were involved in them.

Susanna Rustin


Susanna Rustin’s Sexed is a radical retelling of the story of British feminism.

Starting in the revolutionary 1790s and ending in the present day, she introduces the 1830s radicals who demanded “LIBERTY FOR EVER!”, Victorian petitioners who expected to be dead before women won the vote, and rival camps of suffragists who embraced and rejected violence. She considers the contributions of the first female MPs, as well as activists including the Greenham peace protestors and the black and Asian women’s groups of the 1970s and 1980s.

Her goal? To show how successive generations have fiercely contested what it means to be a woman, and why this matters. Biology on its own is not destiny. But this book argues that differences between male and female bodies have always been feminist issues. While gender is a useful concept, women cannot be supported by a politics that forgets that they, like men, are sexed.


‘I love Rustin’s attitude, unafraid to ask all kinds of questions with a calm, enquiring mind…fascinating, illuminating and essential history of British feminism written in the eye of the hurricane around sex and gender raging right now.’
Samira Ahmed, journalist and broadcaster

‘Brilliant and unmissable…traces the common causes and splits from Wollstonecraft to Mumsnet.’
Sonia Sodha, The Observer

‘I loved reading this vital account… of the rich history of British women’s political activism.’
Karen Ingala Smith, author of Defending Women’s Spaces

‘A fascinating overview.’
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group

‘Thinking about the meanings of sex, Susanna Rustin reminds us, is feminist work that will always need to be done. Sexed offers a thoughtful guide to feminism’s past and present.’
Prof Sally Alexander

‘For a generation of women fighting to reclaim our rights anew, there is inspiration to be found in this history.’
Prof Alice Sullivan

‘Detailed, deft and fascinating…reveals continuities no less than ruptures between generations and across divides.’
Prof Angelique Richardson

‘The Guardian writer offers a mostly even-handed account of the failures and faultiness within the feminist movement… it feels valuable to have such a comprehensive account of British feminist achievement, with the quietly diligent figures given equal billing to their more famous counterparts.’
Fiona Sturges, The Guardian

‘Rustin certainly achieves her goal of creating a book which is “useful”… it covers enormous – and important – ground in its 286 pages.’
The New Statesman Book of the Day

Sexed [is] a symbolically important book… the book is also impressive in its scope and erudition. The narrative zips along faster than the King’s horse heading for Emily Davison, and elegantly compresses a lot of detailed information about important figures, trends and themes into a relatively small space.’
Kathleen Stock, UnHerd

‘Measured and insightful’
Yvonne Roberts, The Observer