Frenemies Book

What happens when enemies work to advance similar goals? Who wins, who loses, and why? Frenemies addresses this question through a study of feminist and conservative opposition to pornography, campaigns against child sexual abuse, and engagement on the Violence Against Women Act. Drawing on extensive research, I show how feminist and conservative activists interacted with each other and with the federal government, how their interaction affected them, and what each side achieved. I re-conceptualize relationships between social movements, presenting a model of how “frenemies”–groups that are neither allies nor opponents–work toward related goals. The book outlines the dynamics and paths of frenemy relationships, describing the unintended consequences for the groups involved and for their respective movements at large. With high levels of political polarization across the U.S., Frenemies provides a crucial look at both the promise and the risk of cooperation across political differences.

Named a 2018 Choice Outstanding Academic Title

Watch a 5-minute video of me discussing the book and other unlikely alliances.


In Strange Bedfellows, Nancy Whittier holds up a beacon of hope for our disintegrating political commons. Combining systematic sociological analysis with deep historical reconstruction, she shows how conservatives and feminists found (temporary and partial) common ground, helping to shift the terms of discourse over pornography, child abuse, and violence against women. Her book is a model of intellectually objective but passionately motivated comparative case study that has great relevance for addressing today’s atmosphere of deep political polarization. -Sidney Tarrow, author of The Language of Contention

“With characteristic insight and brilliance, Nancy Whittier makes us reconsider everything we thought we knew about feminist ‘sex wars’ over pornography, child sex abuse, and violence against women. This is a game-changing analysis of coalition politics. A must-read guide to navigating today’s fractured political landscape.” -Kathleen Blee, Author of Democracy in the Making and Distinguished Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh

Review by Lisa Brush, American Journal of Sociology, Sept. 2019

Review by Sophia Boutilier, Gender & Society, July 2018 (behind paywall)
Review by Virginia Rutter, Contemporary Sociology, June 2019


Chapter One: Introduction
Chapter Two: Opposition to Pornography: Collaborative Adversaries
Chapter Three: Beyond Politics: Child Sexual Abuse and Narrow Neutrality
Chapter Four: The Violence Against Women Act and Ambivalent Alliances
Chapter Five: Conclusion

Oxford Online (free access to abstracts for chapters)

Frenemies, OSO

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