Christina Simmons’s essay on changing ideas about sexuality in the 1920s and 1930s shows the intricate relationship of new sexual theory and contemporary discourses of gender. In the wake of Freud, many doctors, psychologists, and other contemporary commentators repudiated the excessive sexual control that they associated with the Victorians and endorsed sexual expression as a crucial part of modern marriage. Their prescriptions for sexual behavior were also prescriptions for masculinity and femininity more generally. Simmons mines popular fiction, advice manuals, and professional literature to discover a colourful lexicon of types. Appropriate models for masculinity emerge in the “healthy male animal,” even as the image of the “poor worm ” and the “blunderer” provide cautionary tales about men who were too weak or too forceful. In recurring female types - the Victorian matriarch, the complaining wife, the career woman, and the flapper - commentators carved out an ideal that rejected the strictures of the past, yet they did so without offering unqualified approval to female independence either. The so-called sexual revolution had mixed implications for women, Simmons shows us - indeed, she concludes that “the new sexual discourse of the 1920s and 1930s represented not ‘liberation’ but a new form of regulation.”
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For twentieth-century Americans the first sexual revolution popularized the image of the flapper, an ideal of youth, beauty, and freedom of action for women, but also one of sexual vitality. “The emancipated flapper is just plain female under her paint and outside her cocktails,” explains a flapper’s father in
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Publication information: Book title: Gender and American History since 1890. Contributors: Barbara Melosh - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 17.
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