Desiring Revolution

Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of Twentieth-Century American Sexual Thought

Jane Gerhard
Copyright Date: 2001
Pages: 192
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  • Book Info
    Desiring Revolution
    Book Description:

    There was a moment in the 1970s when sex was what mattered most to feminists. White middle-class women viewed sex as central to both their oppression and their liberation. Young women started to speak and write about the clitoris, orgasm, and masturbation, and publishers and the news media jumped at the opportunity to disseminate their views. In Desiring Revolution, Gerhard asks why issues of sex and female pleasure came to matter so much to these "second-wave feminists." In answering this question Gerhard reveals the diverse views of sexuality within feminism and shows how the radical ideas put forward by this generation of American women was a response to attempts to define and contain female sexuality going back to the beginning of the century.

    Gerhard begins by showing how the "marriage experts" of the first half of the twentieth century led people to believe that female sexuality was bound up in bearing children. Ideas about normal, white, female heterosexuality began to change, however, in the 1950s and 1960s with the widely reported, and somewhat shocking, studies of Kinsey and Masters and Johnson, whose research spoke frankly about female sexual anatomy, practices, and pleasures.

    Gerhard then focuses on the sexual revolution between 1968 and 1975. Examining the work of Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Erica Jong, and Kate Millet, among many others, she reveals how little the diverse representatives of this movement shared other than the desire that women gain control of their own sexual destinies. Finally, Gerhard examines the divisions that opened up between anti-pornography (or "anti-sex") feminists and anti-censorship (or "pro-sex") radicals.

    At once erudite and refreshingly accessible, Desiring Revolution provides the first full account of the unfolding of the feminist sexual revolution.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52879-5
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: Sex and the Feminist, 1970
    (pp. 1-12)

    There was a period in the late 1960s and early 1970s when sex mattered in a whole new way. Perhaps short-lived, perhaps misguidedly, most certainly selectively, but for a moment, sex was at the center of women’s impending liberation. A new generation of feminists envisioned sexual pleasure as empowering, as helping men become more human, and as a route out of patriarchal repression of the body. While pleasure did not mean the same thing to every woman, it nonetheless became synonymous, briefly, with liberation.

    This moment of radical feminism sits at the center of Desiring Revolution. Most simply, Desiring Revolution...

  5. One MODERN WOMEN AND MODERN MARRIAGE Reinventing Female Heterosexuality
    (pp. 13-50)

    Second-wave feminists, from the liberal-minded Betty Friedan to the more radical Ti-Grace Atkinson, targeted Freud and psychoanalysis for propagating derogatory views of women. Feminists of all political philosophies agreed that male psychoanalysts had constructed accounts of women as pathological for needing more from their lives than motherhood, as frigid for not reaching sexual ecstasy through intercourse, and as masochistic for embodying the very traits of passivity and loving tolerance that Freudian experts had assigned to them. Furthermore, sex experts created a veritable industry to treat the causes of women’s psychological ill health. Feminists angrily noted that, in psychoanalysis, women were...

  6. Two BETWEEN FREUDIANISM AND FEMINISM Sexology’s Postwar Challenge
    (pp. 51-80)

    When radical feminist Anne Koedt issued her historic denunciation of the vaginal orgasm as a misogynist myth in 1969, she rejected a paradigm that had offered psychoanalysts in the 1920s a way to theorize women’s social role and sexual behavior as a coherent, organic whole. Ironically, unbeknownst to Koedt, female psychoanalysts in the 1920s had embraced the idea of vaginal sexuality as an innovative alternative to Freud’s male-derived models of psychosexual development, which had all centered on women’s envy of the penis.¹ Yet as more analysts and experts embraced the view of women’s organic heterosexuality, the vaginal orgasm ceased to...

  7. Three POLITICIZING PLEASURE Radical Feminist Sexual Theory, 1968–1975
    (pp. 81-116)

    Thanks to the convergence of a burgeoning market for anything related to sex and the language of sexual freedom circulating in the mass media, women of the 1960s were beset by a menu of fashionable sexual practices and new information about sexual response. The birth control pill, available in 1960, further separated sex from reproduction. By 1965 almost six million women used it daily.¹ Both the pill and the rhetoric of sexual liberation put in women’s hands the possibility of approaching sex in a way that was comparable to men’s. By 1970, however, mixed messages and flagrant contradictions in the...

  8. Four DESIRES AND THEIR DISCONTENTS Feminist Fiction of the 1970s
    (pp. 117-148)

    By the early 1970s, it was virtually impossible to miss that sex had finally arrived, belatedly perhaps, as the last great guest of the sixties revolutions. Whether Americans encountered the imagery of sexual freedom in mainstream erotic magazines like the pornography of Playboy or Hustler, engaged in new sexual styles in singles clubs and discos, or read, in the quiet of their homes, the media coverage on the “outbreak” of sexual expressiveness loosely labeled the sexual revolution, it was clear that sexual liberation had come to occupy a privileged place in the national consciousness.¹

    Feminists were regular participants in the...

  9. Five CULTURAL FEMINISM Reimagining Sexual Freedom, 1975–1982
    (pp. 149-182)

    In October 1974, one year after the publication of Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle, the New York City branch of the liberal National Organization for Women (NOW) sponsored a conference on sexuality. In many regards, the conference literally embodied the popular association, made by novelists, blockbuster anthologies, and a new breed of feminist experts, that feminism itself was the space of women’s sexual self-definition. The conference planners self-consciously attempted to speak to all women—gay and straight—about sexual practice and sexual pleasure. The event began with a “speak out” about sex. Participants could...

  10. CONCLUSION: Negotiating Legacies in the Feminist Sex Wars, 1982
    (pp. 183-196)

    In 1982, two years after Adrienne Rich introduced the idea of a “lesbian continuum” and the same year Carol Gilligan published In a Different Voice, feminists gathered at Barnard College for a conference entitled “Towards a Politics of Sexuality.” The conference planners intended it as a forum in which feminists could return to what many viewed as the movement’s roots: an analysis of sexuality that saw pleasure as a resource for female empowerment. A differently politicized group of feminists began protesting both the methods and the message of the antipornography movement. In 1979 and 1980, Ellen Willis and Deirdre English...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 197-228)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 229-232)