Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of Twentieth-Century American Sexual Thought / Edition 1

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Overview

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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Journal of American History
This fascinating book enriches history, women's/gender/sexuality studies, feminist theory, American studies curricula, and the libraries of advanced scholars. Gerhard deserves great credit for her skillful application of contemporary debates toward a creative interpretation of feminist and sexuality history.

— Judith A. Allen

NWSA Journal
Gerhard delves into the history of expert ideas about appropriate reproductive and sexual behavior. Late nineteenth-century women activists, suffragists, and settlement-house workers challenged the idea of separate gendered spheres and showed they could live independently of men... Gerhard does a nice job of showing how the early radical feminists wanted to reconstruct heterosexuality to make it more focused on women's pleasure.

— Barbara Ryan

Journal of the History of Sexuality
Gerhard does a wonderful job of analyzing and situating the texts she has selected...This is a story well worth reading, teaching, and expanding.

— Deborah Cohler

Journal of American History - Judith A. Allen

This fascinating book enriches history, women's/gender/sexuality studies, feminist theory, American studies curricula, and the libraries of advanced scholars. Gerhard deserves great credit for her skillful application of contemporary debates toward a creative interpretation of feminist and sexuality history.

NWSA Journal - Barbara Ryan

Gerhard delves into the history of expert ideas about appropriate reproductive and sexual behavior. Late nineteenth-century women activists, suffragists, and settlement-house workers challenged the idea of separate gendered spheres and showed they could live independently of men... Gerhard does a nice job of showing how the early radical feminists wanted to reconstruct heterosexuality to make it more focused on women's pleasure.

Journal of the History of Sexuality - Deborah Cohler

Gerhard does a wonderful job of analyzing and situating the texts she has selected...This is a story well worth reading, teaching, and expanding.

Women's Review of Books
Astute. . . Gerhard shrewdly highlights the culmination of the clashes and bitter struggles between radical and cultural feminism. . . . She creates a story that is sympathetic, understandable, passionate, and problematic.
Booknews
Feminist writers tended to each place a different emphasis on sex, with a culmination of their thought in the focus on sex of the second wave feminist writers of the 1960s and 1970s. Gerhard (she's taught as an adjunct instructor at Brown U, MIT, the U. of Rhode Island, and Harvard) recovers the trajectory of feminist thinking about sex in this study, which provides in the process a history of the development of feminist thought for the period. She concludes with a discussion of the Barnard conference of 1982, "Towards a Politics of Sexuality." Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231112055
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 4/5/2001
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Gerhard is lecturer in history and literature at Harvard University.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. Modern Women and Modern Marriage: Reinventing Female Heterosexuality2. Between Freudianism and Feminism: Sexology's Postwar Challenge3. Politicizing Pleasure: Radical Feminist Sexual Theory, 1968-19754. Desires and their Discontents: Feminist Fiction of the 1970s5. Cultural Feminism: Reimagining Sexual Freedom, 1975-1982Conclusion

Columbia University Press

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