Sex in history (and in books!)

All looked at for possible research into Undead Sexist Cliches. But it’s pure coincidence I read them all in the same week.

MORAL COMBAT: How Sex Divided American Christians & Fractured American Politics by R. Marie Griffith is that I know at least the outline of the twentieth century’s feuding over sex and God (birth control, interracial dating, abortion, sex ed and gay rights being the familiar flashpoints) or that the book gets very inside baseball. It’s one thing to focus on prominent figures such as Katharine McCormick (she financed a lot of research into oral contraceptives) or Billy Sol Hargis (a once famous right-wing preacher) but it seems like the book drops a lot of names simply for attending conferences or signing statements, even if they weren’t major players. Lots of information, but less insight for me than expected.

LABOR OF LOVE: The Invention of Dating by Moira Weigel told me a lot more that I didn’t know, mostly on how the history of dating has consisted of being Shocked And Appalled. First that the custom (as opposed to calling on a woman at home or going out with chaperone) existed at all (if a woman agrees to go out and the man pays for dinner, isn’t that prostitution?); that college students measured status by how many dates or offers of dates they got; that kids instead of dating around were going steady (what if they got serious, slept together and she got pregnant); and then came the era of Free Love and of course the College Hookup. Along with chronicling the way dating has developed and changed, Weigel looks at the sexism that often accompanies it (it’s good for women to be accomplished, because they can date a better class of men!) and how often it’s been treated as both a job in itself and as an economic investment (several computer-dating and matchmaking companies asserting that as for-profit businesses, they would naturally make dating more efficient). Well done.

STRAIGHT: The Surprisingly Short History of Heterosexuality by Hanne Blank traces how the seemingly obvious idea that we’re hetero or homo only dates back to the 19th century before which it was seen as what we did (the crime of sodomy) rather than who we were. Blank shows how even the definition heterosexuality took a while to jell (some thinkers just considered it “normal” while other saw it as being abnormally attracted to the opposite sex). Then came the struggle to explain why some people were heterosexual, which proved just as baffling as various theories (genes, for example) failed to work. Interesting.


#SFWApro. All rights to cover remain with current holder. Don’t know the designer.

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