Desiring Revolution: Second-wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920 to 1982

Desiring Revolution: Second-wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920 to 1982

Desiring Revolution: Second-wave Feminism and the Rewriting of American Sexual Thought, 1920 to 1982

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.

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2 Comments so far »

  1. Anonymous said,

    Wrote on April 30, 2012 @ 4:59 am

    5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Sex and Brains, January 2, 2002
    By A Customer

    This book does so many things well: it traces the intellectual history of ideas about female sexuality in pyschology and social thought, and it then discusses how feminists both challenged and used those ideas to make a feminist sexual revolution. But this important intellectual and cultural history is also incredibly fun to read. The chapter on “sex novels” is particularly innovative, and you’ll learn more about the feminist “sex wars” here than anywhere else. Highly recommended!

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  2. Anonymous said,

    Wrote on April 30, 2012 @ 5:58 am

    4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    Sex and Feminism, June 12, 2001
    By A Customer

    This is a wonderful book– for both scholars and general readers. Relatively little has been written (yet) about the history of women’s liberation, and Gerhard’s analysis of how and why sexuality came to matter to second wave feminism fills an enormous gap; it is sure to become essential reading. Like Dan Horowitz’s influential biography of Betty Friedan, this book offers an important intellectual history of second wave feminism– from early in the 20th century onward, and from Freud to Erica Jong; with a light touch, then, Gerhard is making many insightful points about the methods and sources that historians use, and the relationship between theory and history. And, not the least, the stereotype of feminists as “anti-sex” simply falls apart in the face of this analysis.

    I teach US history, and my students have loved this smart and engaging book. But my mother in law loved it too!

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