Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Art and Media as a Strategy for Social Change

Sheridan-Rabideau’s article is very in-depth and discusses the various forms of activism used within the GirlZone movement. I am familiar with the book “Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls” by Mary Pipher. It’s a very influential book that utilizes consciousness-raising, which is why I bought it several years ago. However, I had not gotten around to reading it and I’m grateful for this article, because it helped me put the book into cultural and historical perspective. The discussion regarding “Mean Girls,” also called Alpha Girls, R.M.G. (Really Mean Girls) and Queen Bees, truly hit home for me since I had been bullied in the past by a female who perfectly fit the description of the “monied white girl,” who would perpetrate such “relational anger.” I would be most interested in finding the research article which is referenced in this case. I found the following sentence, “depicting girls as actors within situations not of their choosing,” to be particularly poignant as to how I felt about my own situation (Sheridan-Rabideau, p 43). It is good to finally have a name for this type of psychological warfare which I had witnessed.

This poster inspired me to create my Elegance of Masculine Beauty project  which focuses on the masculine face and figure as aesthetically beautiful. I plan to single-handedly tip this statistics!
My inspiration was beautiful men of the 20th & 21st centuries. From RudolphValentino to James Dean, from  Peter O'Toole to Benedict Cumberbatch. Inspiration for Elegance of Masculine Beauty (classic Hollywood)

Transnational Feminism: Contrasts Between Western and Eastern European Perspectives of Feminism

In “Constructing Global Feminism” the issue of Western ideals of feminism being imposed onto Russian activism is discussed. Russia’s historically complex relationship with feminism presented itself in the form of the Soviet Union definition of feminism as the model factory worker who was equal to men in the workplace, but still had to perform a “second shift” in the domestic sphere after work. Due to this extra workload imposed on them, many women of the post-Soviet era rejected feminism outright and adopted the more domestic, dutiful wife role which existed in the Soviet era (Prof Vaingurt interview).

This rejection of feminism creates a dilemma for transnational activists traveling to Russia in order to facilitate communication, workshops, and conferences with NGOs in Russia. Another obstacle is the question of whether the West is trying to impose its definition of feminism onto other cultures (Sperling, p 1158). This issue was brought up in “One Step Global,” where the question of how gay, lesbian, homosexual, and queer identities are expressed both linguistically and idealistically in various cultures. For example, Chinese activists use the Chinese term for coming home as opposed to the English equivalent coming out. This reflects a cultural difference because Chinese society is structured around familial relationships rather than individual identities (Garber, p 1).

As a linguist, I have noticed that the issue pertaining to these linguistic quirks cannot be overlooked. The mentality of a culture is sometimes reflected in the use of that culture’s words and idioms. For instance, German is a hyper-logical language which reflects the precise and literal mentality of the culture. The word Mittleschmerz (literal translation: middle pain) refers to the pain which some women experience during the mid-menstrual cycle at the time of ovulation. Mittleschmerz is the same word utilized in the English language. Consciousness-raising and education of these cultural and linguistic nuances would be invaluable transnational activism. The best method would be to learn the language of the given culture which one wishes to become involved in; that would provide the best tools necessary to facilitate communication, foster understanding, and earn respect within that environment.

            It is important to keep in mind that terms referring to queer identities are, historical speaking, only recent social constructs. What may be referred to as queer (i.e. gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, intersex, non-gender conforming individuals) at our current point in history, has gone through many incarnations gone by many names throughout the course of history and in various cultures. This is alluded to by Ruth Vanita in her book “Queering India” in which she states that queer theorists are cautious not to use terms like homosexual when referring to earlier eras in Euro-American history or non-Western parts of the world (Garber, p 3).
            The concept of questioning queer identities is echoed in how the Russian women activists questioned the term feminism. The article made it clear that the Russian participants in the conferences had a different definition of the term feminism to that of the American participants’ (Sperling, p 1163).

A pivotal point to keep in mind is the economic conditions and infrastructure that exists within a country. Basic survival needs, such as food and employment, were brought up as the primary concerns of female activists in Russia. It is hard for Russians to concentrate on issues which the American activists wanted to address, such as gay rights: these topics were deemed unimportant to the Russian activists who lived hand-to-mouth in an economically unstable oligarchy (ibid., p 1175).

Gorkemli brought up the concept of activism in Turkey among gay and lesbian individuals are closeted in their lives but can come out on the Internet. Turkish activists initiated a campaign called “coming out of the Internet” and thus creating an alternative setting which encouraged political and grassroots organizing to combat the traditional media, mainly print and television, which continued to perpetuate gender stereotypes and hetero-normative behaviour. There is a common thread with Sperling’s article: Gorkemli discusses how homosexuality and lesbianism were perceived by some as being a social construct of the West and as being “imported” into Turkey as a neo-colonial imperialistic form of imposing the ideals of another culture onto their society (Gorkemli, p 83).

Bunch discussed how women’s rights are human rights issues because women suffer disproportionately from poverty due to the fact that women are consistently paid less than men. This stacks the cards against women since they are, more often than not, the single parents supporting children. This, in turn, increases the number of children living in poverty. The fact that women are disproportionately victims of violent crime, that including infanticide (which is at an all-time high at this point), illustrates to what extent women are treated inhumanly. The fact that huge numbers of women in various countries are forced to live with a hand-to-mouth existence of a daily basis constitutes a human rights violation (Bunch, p 289). The issues of economic conditions and infrastructure were not brought up in any of the other articles, despite the fact that these relevant points which should be taken to consideration.

This only illustrates how sensitive and careful should be in regard to transnational feminism and activism. One should not lose sight of the nuances of language, national mentality, and history of another culture. It would be advisable to ask activists in other countries “what is it you need” as opposed to dictating what they should do (ibid., p 1176).

Post Script:
Garber discusses how the “Foucauldian queer narrative places the birth of the homosexual in 1870.” This is in reference to Foucault’s article “The History of Sexuality volume 1, 1870 - Birth of Homosexuality” (Foucault, p 1). I discovered an inconsistency in this statement, which I shall explain in the following: During the late 1800s, a small group of German physicians turned to sex research, while others became early gay rights activists (to overturn Paragraph 175, the Prussian anti-sodomy law of 1871). The German-Hungarian writer, Karoly Maria Kertbeny (a.k.a. Karl Maria Benkert, 1824 – 1882) coined the terms homosexuality and heterosexuality in a letter he wrote in 1868 to Carl Westphal (1833 – 1890). Carl Westphal was a physician who wrote an article in the “Archiv fűr Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten” (Archive of Psychiatry und Nerve Diseases) asking for the scientific study of socially stigmatized sexual behavior.  Bullough’s book, “Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research” gives the date of this article as having been written in 1869 (Bullough, p 38). The reference that Foucault uses in his book only gives a footnote to the date which states “Carl Westphal, “Archiv fűr Neurologie 1870” (Foucault, p 1). This would make it a different archive than the one which Bullough lists, thus putting into question the date of when the social construct of homosexuality first appeared in scientific literature. I’m intrigued by this discrepancy and will look into it in more detail during the summer break.


Bullough, Vern. Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research. New York: Basic
Books, 1994.

Bunch, C., women’s rights as human rights: toward a vision of human rights. Human rights quarterly, 12, 286-298. accessed 9 May, 2013

Foucault, M., The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley, New York: Random House, 1980, 42-44.

Gorkemli, S., “Coming Out of the Internet: Lesbian and Gay Activism and the Internet as a ‘digital closet’ in Turkey,” Journal of Middle East Women Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3, Fall 2012

Prof. Vaingurt, Associate Professor, Acting Associate Director, School of Literatures, Cultural Studies & Linguistics; area of specialization: 20th-century Russian literature and culture, University of Illinois at Chicago, interview, 1 April 2013

Sperling, V., Ferree, M. M., & Risman, B., Constructing Global Feminism: Transnational Advocacy Networks and Russian Women’s Activism, Signs, 26, 1155-1186

Definitions of The 5 Strategies of Social Change; Comparison and Contrasts

Community Coalitions - creating organizations which represent a multitude of community groups and bring together the collective resources of these groups in order to reach a common goal which would be difficult for the individual groups to reach on their own. The Chicago Abused Women’s Coalition formed in response to rising awareness of the high incidence of battered wives in America. It consisted of the Salvation Army Emergency Lodge, the Pacific Garden Mission - Unshackled, and the Gospel League Shelter (Schechter, p 55). This is a valid strategy of change because of its utilization of strength in resources, and strength in membership, thus increasing its influence in a given movement.

Strengths: the strength of community coalitions is in the fact that it is a multitude of smaller groups fighting for a greater cause. The larger the coalition the more influence it may have both legislatively as well as geographically.

Weaknesses: Some of the members of these coalitions may have hidden agendas, as was the case with the Pacific Garden Mission -Unshackled and the Gospel League Shelter, which both required women to attend Bible classes, plus imposing religion on the women who seek the services (ibid.).

Consciousness-raising - increasing awareness, bringing a new understanding of issues, both on the political level and a personal level. The 1970s term “the Personal is Political” exemplifies how personal aspects within one’s life, such as wage equality, are political issues. This is a valid strategy of change, and to be used under the premise that the general public is unaware of these issues. If the public is already aware of these issues, then it would be logical to onto the next step for example social action.

Examples of consciousness-raising would be circulating petitions, utilizing such websites as for such a purpose, or the use of other social media. It can be combined with other forms of spreading the word such as distributing flyers, posters, etc. This strategy was used to great effect during the organization of the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955 to 1956 to spread the word of the planned boycott via the use of phone trees, flyers, and discussion throughout local churches (Robinson, p 55).

Strengths: the strength of consciousness raising lies in its ability to quickly get the word out and attract attention (often times via the media) to a given issue and in its ability to mobilize people for given cause.

Weaknesses: An obvious weakness of consciousness-raising is that the same media which pays attention to it can also contort it in order to make the activists appear extremist, irrational, disorganized, etc, thus running the risk of potentially hurting the movement.

Social Action - constructive conflict, in particular confronting and challenging government and other figures in positions of authority. This enables disenfranchised populations to empower themselves by organizing around a common goal utilizing such things as protests, boycotts, petitions, etc. This is a valid strategy of change if the conditions are right within a given society. In the case of the social climate in Lithuania, which I will go into in more detail in section B, this is a more complex and problematic dilemma.

An example of this would be: Daniel Sotomayor, the leader of the Chicago branch of ACT UP, who in the 1980s, confronted Mayor Richard Daley with a banner stating “Daley, tell the truth about AIDS” thus illustrating how social action can be used to confront figures of authority. Another fine example is that of Alice Paul, who was fearless in her fight for the women’s right to vote and got arrested numerous times and placed in solitary confinement.

Strengths: the strengths of this strategy are that they bring attention to social issues which may otherwise get swept under the rug by the media. The media is drawn to drama, therefore, this type of extreme behaviour would draw media attention, thus giving free publicity to the movement.

Weaknesses: D’Emilio demonstrates that the growing visibility of gays and lesbians in the public eye also increased the risk of violence being perpetrated against them. This, in turn, would necessitate yet one more issue regarding rights which would need to be addressed utilizing a strategy of change, in this particular case, the Hate Crime Statistics Act (D’Emilio, The World Turned, p 107).

Alternative Settings - would entail the creation of spaces as alternatives to mainstream settings. Mainstream settings would include but are not limited to the following: churches, schools, and other such institutions which would utilize a hierarchical system of administration. An example of alternative settings would be the formation of LGBTQ community centers throughout the country and throughout the world. LGBTQ community centers provide a myriad of activities, support groups, counseling services, safe spaces for LGBTQ youth in need, and other services. This is a valid strategy of change as long as it is not taken too far, as was the case in Berlin in the late 80s early 90s (see “weaknesses”).

Strengths: one of the strengths of alternative settings is that it creates a safe space for disenfranchised individuals in a community where they can feel free to bring up issues and concerns which otherwise may harm them in more mainstream settings.

 Weaknesses: one of the weaknesses of alternative settings would be the question of staffing. If it is staffed by volunteers then it would be difficult to keep everyone dedicated and focused. Some volunteers may just lose interest over time, thus requiring the search for someone to replace that person as well as the training of the new individual. Another weakness would be the fact that some alternative settings outlive their usefulness, as was the case with the Van Dykes, who traveled throughout this the country as a utopian separatist group. They were unable to sustain a nomadic lifestyle in the long run due to a combination of infighting, the price of essentials such as gas, food, etc. (Levy, p 4). Another weakness of this strategy is when it is taken too far. This was the case with the lesbian feminist movements in Berlin, which had female space only cafés, restaurants, clubs, and community center. This imposed their philosophy of separatism onto the community at large, without giving individuals the option of an alternative to “their alternative.”
Policy, Research and Advocacy - conducting research which would inform and influence government, public policy, laws etc. An example of this strategy is utilized by the NGLTF (National Gay and Lesbian Task Force), an organization which works tirelessly to lift bans and prohibitions against homosexuality. The NGLTF worked with allies in various fields of mental health in order to remove homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) published by the American Psychiatric Association. This was a major leap forward because up until that point, homosexual behaviour was treated as a mental condition which could be “cured.” (UCDavis). This is a valid strategy of change because it involves empirical method of research, logic, and legislative law in order to implement change.

Strengths: one of the strengths of this strategy is that it helps with “leaping” forward in bold moves, as described in the “leaping and creeping” stages of social movements (D’Emilio, class lecture). Another advantage of this strategy is that the activism and the resulting “leaps” make it to the national (and sometimes international) news, thus setting a precedent for the same issues in other states and, hopefully, other countries.

Weaknesses: the weakness of research, policy, and advocacy is that it can only work under certain social conditions. Case in point, the current social climate within Lithuania regarding LGBT rights would not be conducive for utilizing research, policy, and advocacy because the subject of homosexuality is such a new concept to the general population that first one must explain what homosexuality is. Most of the research, policy, and advocacy on behalf of LGBT individuals within Lithuania are conducted outside of the country, primarily in other European Union countries such as England and Germany. This is due to the fact that, at this point in time, the primary concern of the LGBT community is safety. The economic conditions within Lithuania have consistently grown worse since the country gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1990. Xenophobia, homophobia, sexism, and other forms of hate and intolerance are sadly commonplace within the country. Members of the LGBT community within Lithuania have the advantage of being citizens of the European Union which grants them protection against discrimination. This, however, does not afford them protection under Lithuanian law. Many Lithuanian LGBT individuals fear for their lives, for their safety, for their jobs, etc. At this juncture, the LGBT movement in Lithuania is in a very early stage of its development and, sadly, cannot afford most of the luxuries enjoyed by the LGBT movement in America (European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT rights). The Lithuanian language doesn’t even have a word for homosexuality, and the subject was never discussed in Lithuanian circles during my lifetime before now. Some Lithuanians believe that homosexuality is a concept introduced into Lithuania the Russians and Putin’s administration. This only demonstrates exactly how much work lies ahead of us.

B. Compare and Contrast Strategies

The Times, They are a Changing

As time changes, so do the needs of a community as well as the needs of a particular movement. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) arose in response to the AIDS crisis. The slogan of ACT UP, “Silence = Death” emboldened many members of the community to come out of the closet and fight for the cause. This was when Social Action took center stage. Different eras call for different strategies or a combination of different strategies.
The face of social activism changed in America during the “99%” protests, when mainstream media portrayed an image of the protesters as only consisting of students and youth “with nothing better to do” and no clear agenda. In reality, these protesters represented a wide spectrum of individuals: middle-aged parents, teachers, businessmen, and other individuals of all ages were well represented in the crowd. Since mainstream media in America is owned by just a handful of wealthy individuals, such as Rupert Murdoch, who hope to protect their own self interests, this becomes an increasingly challenging hurdle to overcome when it comes to media depictions of protests and activism. In this day and age, a less harmful strategy may be well advised. I believe that a combination of Consciousness-raising via the Internet and social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and the use of alternative media (TV, radio, websites, news, etc) would be more logical and effective in this modern era. An example of an alternative TV station would be LinkTV, which broadcasts “Democracy Now!” a news and current events program with a more socialist and global perspective, along with TV shows, films, documentaries from around the world (LinkTV). It would be a more logical and effective alternative to seek out these other routes. Social activism in the form of online petitions and letters to elected officials is an unfiltered form of getting the word out and being active.

The process of transforming an organization from a handful of nonhierarchical active individuals, to a larger, more complex organization, presents its own set of challenges. One of the main problems facing the growth of an organization would be successful navigation from one stage to another. The possibility that members would disagree is high when taking all the variables into account: the direction the organization should go, added responsibilities of that organization, as well as the structure of the leadership, etc. Jo Freeman wrote an essay on this topic in 1973 entitled “The Tyranny of Structurelessness” in which she discussed the disadvantage of veiled hierarchies which can be inherent in an egalitarian system within an organization. As an organization grows it may have to walk a tightrope between how it maintains an egalitarian system and how it continues to provide a given service to the community. For example, how can a shelter for battered women tend to the needs of these women while, at the same time, expanding its staff building the organization further? The operative question to ask would it still function efficiently in an orderly manner. Although an egalitarian system may function well with smaller organizations, it could prove problematic as more individuals join into the equation (Riger, 282). Thus, the alternative settings approach can proof to have its difficulties.

Alternative settings can have commonalities with community coalitions in the sense that as they grow they become more complex and have to navigate around the turbulent waters of hidden agendas of individuals/organizations. Infighting is not uncommon in both alternative settings and community coalitions, as organizational/hierarchical changes occur within these two settings. It is hard to guarantee the longevity of a group which utilizes an alternative setting structure because it may be dependent on funding from within, and may collapse if the funding, from grants, fundraising, etc dry out. It is important for an alternative setting to have a set of standards regarding who the accept funding from. Government may attempt to step in by offering funding for certain services, but then these organizations may have to abide by the government’s rules in order to continue receiving these funds. That was the dilemma faced by the Women’s Health Center when the government’s practice of selective funding limited the kind of services the clinic could provide (Morgen, p 203).

Individuals may choose to participate in any of the five strategies depending on what their personal philosophy and feelings are on a given issue. That is not to be confused with collective action in the form of what community coalitions and other such groups may advocate. In that sense the LGBT movement in the LGBT community would be two different things. The LGBT movement would imply some form of activism whereas the LGBT community simply refers to the collective members of the community, regardless whether they are activists or not. I personally know quite a few members of the LGBT community who are not politically active in any way for any cause. It would be a flaw in logic to assume that the LGBT movement for the right to get married (gay marriage, for example, as opposed to trans-, or intersex- marriage), would reflect the opinion of every member in the LGBT community. Therefore, any strategy for change, be it women’s rights, immigration rights, etc., is not representative of the entire population.

The wide spectrum of organizations, such as Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Howard Brown Health Center, for example, work in conjunction with each other within the LGBT community to fight for the rights and well-being of individuals with AIDS. Lambda Legal, as well as the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act all utilized policy, research, and advocacy as a strategy for change, and all thoughts on a national level to pass legislation to help protect people with HIV from discrimination. During the leaping phase, more radical strategies for change would be utilized: social action, for example, in the form of protests to draw attention to an issue: and, alternative settings, which would break the hierarchy inherent in the system by establishing a more egalitarian, form of governing/organizing. In the creeping phase, dialogue and negotiation would be the predominant philosophy utilized for change (D’Emilio, Cycles of Change, p 91).

In closing, I would like to assert that all of these five strategies are logical and beneficial, although it is of the utmost importance to assess the social/political environment, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of each one of these strategies before deciding on how to proceed with a given movement. Different cultures have different mentalities and therefore different understandings (or misunderstandings) about a given issue. These differences need to be taken into consideration before taking the next step for change.

D’Emilio, John, Cycles of Change, Questions of Strategy: the Gay Lesbian Movement after 50 Years

D’Emilio, John, The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture, Duke University Press, Durham, 2002

European Parliament Intergroup on LGBT Rights, website,

Levy, Ariel, Lesbian Nation: When Gay Women Took to the Road, the New Yorker, March 2, 2009

Morgen, Sandra, the Dynamics of Cooptation in a Feminist Health Clinic, Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 23, No. 2, p 201 – 210, 1986

Riger, Stephanie, Challenges of Success: Stages of Growth in Feminist Organizations, Feminist Studies, Vol. 20, No. 2, Women’s Agency: Empowerment and the Limits of Resistance. (Summer, 1994), p 275 – 300

Robinson, Jo Ann Gibson, The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women who Started It: the memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson, University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1987

Schechter, S., Women and Male Violence: the Visions and Struggles of the Battered Women’s Shelter Movement, South End Press, 1982


The History of Sex Education (1800s to Obama)

Despite the fact that the history of the sex education movement in America started in the late 19th century, the general public in America is still rather illiterate on sexual issues. Sexual illiteracy defined as “either not knowing the facts or being misinformed about a range of sexual topics, including AIDS, contraception, homosexuality, erection problems, infidelity, and menopause” (Reinisch, p 1). The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex was published in 1990 in response to the results of the Kinsey Institute/Roper Organization National Sex Knowledge Survey which demonstrated that 55% of the 1974 survey participants received an F grade at the end of the study (ibid., p 2). This book is a 540 page question-and-answer book designed to educate and raise awareness of a variety of issues pertaining to human sexuality including, but not limited to, anatomy, attraction, hormones, puberty, disability, parenthood, contraception, health, SDIs, etc.

  Feminist activism can be utilized to add perspective and critical analysis to issues regarding sex education. The current argument that American sex education finds itself in the debate over the nonsensical “abstinence only” approach which the religious right puts forth.  I believe that celibacy is a personal decision that neither government nor religion should play a role in. Although one can choose celibacy, that shouldn’t excuse ignorance on issues pertaining to sexuality, therefore, those who choose to be sexually active have even less excuse for being ignorant. “Abstinence only” education only perpetuates ignorance on sexual issues.

“Abstinence only” education came to the fore during the Reagan Administration, when Surgeon General C. Everett Koop attempted to get his AIDS report endorsed by the White House staff. Koop continually encountered opposition from Gary Bauer, Reagan’s chief advisor on domestic policy. According to Koop, Bauer stated, “the nation was facing the problem of AIDS simply because it had abandoned traditional morality, and it would not get out of the situation until we returned to that morality” (Melody, p 208). This recurring theme of “traditional morality” still continues to play in legislative and governmental policies pertaining to everything from sex education, and abortion/women’s health issues, to gay rights and funding for research in human sexuality.

Sex education in the late 1800s

Although “marriage manuals” (aka “marriage guides”) were available in that era in history, most of them were medically inaccurate, only advocated sex within the context of marriage, and celibacy outside of marriage. Masturbation was viewed as unhealthy, as presented in the Bible pertaining to Onan committing a sin by spilling his seed; seed which should always be used in the act of procreation (Melody, p 235).

An early pioneer of sexual education was John Humphrey Noyes (1811 – 1886), who in 1848 founded the Oneida Community, a utopian settlement in upstate New York which lasted until 1881. The Oneida Community, which was briefly mentioned in the Levy article, is an intriguing case study of an alternative setting and deserves closer inspection (Levy, p 1). It was a religious commune, an alternative setting for Noyes and his followers; they practiced open marriage for which he coined the term “free love.” His wife, Harriet Maria Worden, gave birth five times, with only one child surviving. John promised her never to put either one of them through that ordeal again. This was the starting point of his natural male birth control method which utilized the contraction of the puboccygeus muscle (a.k.a. pc muscle, the same muscle used for Kegel exercises in women) in order to experience orgasm without ejaculation: he called this method, “Male Continence.” Word of his method spread quickly and became so popular, that he received letters from all over America asking for information about it. This prompted him to publish the short book, “Male Continence” in 1872 (Noyes). The fact that Noyes discussed birth control as the responsibility of the male is groundbreaking even by today’s standards: modern-day discussions on birth control still circulate around the woman’s responsibility. Noyes' short book can be found posted at the Syracuse University Library website . Here's the link Male Continence

Noyes’ book utilized consciousness-raising: it was being transported via the postal system and sold throughout the country. This, alas, was short-lived as just one year later, in 1873; the implementation of the Comstock laws took effect, which prohibited the distribution of “obscene” materials via the mail. What was deemed “obscene” was rather vague; artwork, novels, scientific and medical information on birth control were confiscated and those distributing these items were often arrested and sent to jail (Brown, p 2).
Sex education in the early 1900s mainly focused on educating the public regarding “social diseases” (i.e. diseases which would affect family life in society as a whole). This is the time when discussion of venereal diseases first became part of an organized movement of education. This education was to be handled by private agencies as opposed to schools. The “Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis” was founded in 1905 in New York City and the “American Federation for Sex Hygiene” as well as the “American Vigilance Association” was founded in 1912. All three groups addressed sexuality from hygienic standpoint and were especially concerned with prostitution as a “social vice.” The “Society of Sanitary and Moral Prophylaxis” declared the aim “to promote the appreciation of the sacredness of human sexual relations, and thereby to minimize the moral and physical evils resulting from ignorance and vice” (ibid. p 3).

This emphasis on the betterment of society was part of the larger Progressivism movement which started in the late 1900s and lasted until the 1920s. Progressivism was a grassroots social reaction to the concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the industrial elite. The goals of the movement were broad and included, but were not limited to: reforming labor conditions, voting rights, immigration policies, tax issues, women’s voting rights, and  to rein in the abuses of big business from the so-called “gilded age.” Under presidents like Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, the movement initiated far-reaching reforms, and addressed some of the most egregious inequalities and violations of civil protections in American society. The founding of Jane Addam’s Hull House was part of the progressive era, which acted as an alternative setting for meetings and social change, as well as a venue for consciousness-raising within the community covering various issues including birth control and sex education (Link, p 79).

During the early 1900s, sex education wasn’t comprehensive, it was broken down into various different aspects such as, medical (hygiene, disease), marriage manuals (which only covers the bare minimum sex info for young married couples), and birth control information. Under the Comstock laws all of these were deemed obscene and confiscated (Vostral, p 121).

One of the most prominent activists to fight the repressive Comstock laws was Margaret Sanger (1879 – 1966) who spearheaded the grassroots birth control movement. She was a nurse in the Lower East Side of Manhattan (just across the river from Hoboken). She had witnessed the spread of preventable diseases due to malnutrition and poor living conditions, as well as watching women die from self-induced abortions. She published pamphlets with information on birth control methods in hopes of raising consciousness and, as a result, was arrested and charged with violating postal obscenity laws. The media attention to her arrests resulted in promoting her cause, thus “making the private political”. Sanger coined the term “birth control” and founded the American Birth Control League (which became Planned Parenthood in 1942) (Steinem).

The first victory for Margaret Sanger was in 1936, when the court ruled in favor of the right to distribute pamphlets on birth control as well as birth control devices via the postal system. The presiding judge ordered “a sweeping liberalization of federal Comstock laws, ruling that contemporary data on the damages of unplanned pregnancy and the benefits of contraception meant that contraceptive devices and birth control could no longer be classified as obscene” (Planned Parenthood website). Although this applied only to New York, Vermont, and Connecticut, it wasn’t until the 1960s that the other states caught up and allowed married couples to obtain birth control through their physicians (Ibid).

The Rockefeller Foundation was instrumental in early sex research and education. In 1921, it funded the Committee for Research in Problems of Sex, which sponsored studies spanning such diverse topics as illegitimacy, prostitution, abortion, and sexual practice of regular citizens (Cocks, p 48). The foundation also helped Sanger fund the first birth control clinic in America, as well as funding research into the chemical composition of spermicides (Bullough, p 135).

Even early cinema played its part in educating the public and raising consciousness. Lois Weber (1881 – 1939), one of the few female directors of that era, directed “Where Are My Children?”, a film which candidly discusses abortion and birth control. Weber was a supporter of Margaret Sanger and birth control; she made this film in order to raise consciousness and open up the discussion for the topics (Weber). Charlie Chaplin’s film, “The Kid” from 1921, made a bold criticism of societal stigmatization of unwed motherhood in its opening scene. Edna Purviance’s character walks out of a charity hospital with her newborn baby as the title card reads “the woman - whose sin was motherhood” (Chaplin). The issue of children born out of wedlock was a taboo subject in society at that time: Chaplin humanized Purviance’s character, and in so doing, he set the standard for consciousness-raising in film form.

Walt Disney produced a short animated film educating young girls about the menstrual cycle entitled, “The Story of Menstruation” which was a 10 minute animated short produced in 1946. It was shown in healthcare classes at schools; it was even awarded the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. A gynecologist was hired to ensure that it was anatomically and medically accurate. The film desexualized menstruation portrayed it in a framework of hygiene: “Bleeding meant an introduction to adulthood, not a participation in it” (Vostral, p 122).

Hull House involvement in Birth Control Movement

I found an intriguing document in the Special Collections of UIC Library: it was a five page text recording the minutes of a meeting of the Birth Control Conference of the Chicago Woman’s Aid. The conference was held Thursday, December 5, 1929. It was found in box 15, folder 135 of Chicago Women’s Aid Records. It mentions Dr. Rachelle Yarros and Dr. Bacon as prominent activists in the birth control movement. Dr. Yarros was affiliated with Hull House and was a strong advocate of birth control in Chicago in the early 1900s.
The following points were made in the document:
The Comstock Law of 1879 categorized the dissemination of information on birth control as an obscenity. Half the states have enacted such obstructive laws, and in so doing, no medical textbook which contained information of birth control could be mailed in America without the threat of prosecution. There was only one medical school which they were aware of that educated to its students on contraception.
Legal, medical, sociological, and ethical paragraphs were given as logical reasons for birth control. A case was made for research in methods of contraception. War, famine, and disease as a result of overpopulation were addressed. There is a paragraph alluding to Eugenics, in which the case was made for the possible compulsory sterilization of “unfit” individuals. “The fact that some of the most unfit class of all – diseased and defective and parasitic – will not use contraceptive information or cannot be taught it, is a grave danger to the race” (p 3).  This is a chilling statement which is reminiscent of totalitarian ideology, such as the Nazis.
The statement that “the mother of a growing family is presumably more valuable than one more child and should not be sacrificed for such” (Ibid) is a relevant question which is still being brought up today in political discussions regarding whether a women should get an abortion if it would save her life.
The most striking part of this document was the following quote: “We as men believe that if we had to undergo sickness, disfigurement, limitation of activities, discomfort, pain, danger, and sometimes death for the birth of a child, we would insist that it was our absolute right to choose our own time for the process. Therefore, we believe this an essential and absolute right of women and encourage them to claim such right” (Ibid). This is followed by the signing of the document by eighteen men, many of whom were doctors. To have so many men make such a strong and passionate statement is truly significant. It speaks volumes about how women were simply expected to be mothers and not concern themselves with the health risks involved in pregnancy. It is notable, however, that no females signed this declaration.
This paper is representative of other items in the collection because it addressed how contraception was viewed in its day. The document mentioned that the American Birth Control League received five thousand letters in one year asking for information on birth control. Despite the public outcry for such information, the Comstock Laws still held doctors and patients alike captive for fear of fines and imprisonment.
Ben Reitman was the lover of Emma Goldman and they both worked tirelessly to promote birth control. Reitman was nicknamed “the Hobo Doctor” because of his work with the downtrodden of society; the poor, the immigrants, prostitutes, hobos, etc. In 1916, the couple was arrested for endorsing birth control. Reitman served a six month sentence in jail, after which, the romantic relationship with Goldman ended (Reitman papers, 1).
This document is relevant because it reveals the sad state of institutionalized ignorance on the subject of sex education and birth control in America. The battle for women’s rights over their own bodies has a long standing tradition in American history. The struggle wages on in today’s political arena.

Kinsey’s Role in Sex Education and Consciousness-Raising

Alfred Kinsey played a major role in the consciousness-raising of issues pertaining to sexuality. His research in human sexual behavior was groundbreaking not only in the depth and scope of the subjects he covered, but also in the fact that he set the stage educating the public by publishing his research findings.

He didn’t intend to be a sex researcher, but fate called him to task. It all started when the Surgeon General, Thomas Parran, asked for nationwide testing due to a rise in syphilis rates. In response, Indiana University’s student paper, the Daily Student, published an article on February 15, 1938 calling for “compulsory Wasserman tests for all Indiana students” (Jones, p 318). Students started writing to the paper with complaints about the sorry state of sex education at the university. The consciousness-raising of the students prompted Kinsey to volunteer in developing a class on sex and marriage. He taught the non-credit marriage course to married couples and seniors and it was an instant success (ibid. p 327). Thus, Kinsey used consciousness-raising in a university setting.
Kinsey offered advice to students who approached him with questions concerning sexuality. He started collecting the sexual histories of his students and found that human sexual behavior exhibited diverse variation, echoing the variation he observed in his studies of the physical characteristics of gall wasps. He continued collecting sexual histories, ranging from that of the faculty to the groundskeepers on campus (American Experience).
Kinsey’s work was not without detractors. Some of the faculty pressured the university president, Herman Wells, to remove Kinsey from the marriage course. Wells, who supported Kinsey’s work, decided to give Kinsey an ultimatum: choose between continuing the research and continuing to teach the course. In 1940, Kinsey chose the research (American Experience).

            Sexual Behavior in the Human Male

            Kinsey continued collecting sexual histories and in 1941, he acquired a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to fund his sex research. Between 1941 and 1946, he assembled his research staff: Clyde Martin (1918 - ), Wardell Pomeroy (1913 – 2001),    and Paul Gebhard (1917 - ). Kinsey and his team constructed a survey containing about 300 questions. The first set of questions were demographic (age, religious background, work, etc), and the remaining questions investigated a wide variety of sexual activity. In the questionnaire, sex was defined as to the point of ejaculation. First the team questioned locals, then they traveled the country and questioned over 5,300 males (Biography). The resulting book, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was published in 1948 and sold about 500,000 copies and was an instant success (American Experience).

The resulting data shattered the way America perceived itself. Kinsey reported that more than 90% of American males masturbated, 85% have had premarital intercourse, 70% had patronized a prostitute at least once in their lives, almost 60% have had oral sex, and 30% to 45% had engaged in extramarital intercourse. What was most shocking, however, was that 37% of those interviewed reported to have engaged in homosexual activity at some point in their lives (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and Martin, p 650). The book was a huge success and hit the best-sellers list, thus propelling Kinsey to the iconic status of being a household name. This form of consciousness-raising on the subject of sexuality was unprecedented; the fact that he not only mentioned homosexuality but gave statistics on it thus kick-starting the gay rights movement (leaping) by helping individuals understand that they were not alone, (D’Emilio, p 80).

Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

Kinsey’s work collecting sexual histories continued and in 1947, he established the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University. In 1953, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published, coincidentally; the first issue of Playboy came out that same year. 5,940 women were interviewed. It sold over 200,000 copies in the first two months and revealed that more than 90% of females had indulged in sexual petting, 66% had sexual dreams, 62% had masturbated, 50% have had premarital sex, 19% had engaged in homosexual activity, 14 % have had multiple orgasms, and 26% had had extramarital sexual encounters (Kinsey et al 299).

This data shocked the nation. The image of a wholesome, puritanical society was forever shattered. Churches and religious groups were up in arms. Billy Graham (1918 - ) published a pamphlet stating, "It is impossible to estimate the damage this book will do to the already deteriorating morals of America. Doctor Kinsey's report shows itself to be completely lopsided and unscientific when it says that seven out of ten women who had pre-marital affairs had no regrets. He certainly could not have interviewed any of the millions of born-again Christian women in this country who put the highest price on virtue, decency and modesty” (Billy Graham).   

Kinsey and the McCarthy Era
            It wasn’t long before the media attacked Kinsey’s books as being a threat to American family values, thus, in their eyes, making a Communist takeover of America possible. The Indianapolis Times ran the headline, “‘Kinseyism’ Aids Reds” (American Experience). Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908 – 1957) from Wisconsin requested the Carnegie, Rand, and Ford Foundations to appear in front of the House Investigations Committee in order to justify their grants and ensure that the Communists hadn’t infiltrated their organizations. The witch-hunt didn’t end there, the State Department fired hundreds of employees whom they suspected were gay (Jones 630). J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the F.B.I., (1895 – 1972) maintained a file on Kinsey. Once the Rockefeller Foundation was called forward, B. Carroll Reese (1889 – 1961), who lead the Senate Special Committee on Tax Exempt Foundations, condemned Kinsey’s work. As a result, the Rockefeller Foundation cut Kinsey’s funding in 1954 (American Experience).
Kinsey had in effect been censored. His dreams of completing his research and collecting 100,000 interviews for further volumes on the study of human sexuality were shattered. He planned on publishing a book on the relationship of arts to sexual behavior, which looked into how sexual history of individuals (i.e. their love maps) translated into their work as artists. This work never got published. Two other books which he was working on were “Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion” published in 1958, and the other entitled “Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types” published in 1967. These books were published by his surviving fellow researchers Paul Gebhard and Wardell Pomeroy (interview, Kinsey Institute). The censoring of Kinsey demonstrates that sex education and research has frequently fallen victim to totalitarian ideologies of the authoritarian political agendas.

 Kinsey’s Legacy in Consciousness-Raising and Research lives on

In 1982, The Kinsey Institute officially changed its name to The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. The Kinsey Institute continues to conduct research in various aspects of human sexuality. Alfred Kinsey’s research asked what humans do, the Institute now asks why humans do it. Current questions regarding human sexuality pertain to neurochemistry, hormones, mood, psychology of relationships and pairbonding, what effects partner choices, etc. is a site for information on sexual health and contains podcasts, newsblogs, and an on-line Question & Answer section. The Kinsey Institute hosts sexology conferences, lectures, and art exhibits on various aspects of human sexuality, as well as an extensive library (Kinsey Institute website). The vast resources listed on the Kinsey Institute website, including their downloadable broadcasts and question-and-answer sessions work to raise consciousness and educate the public. The Kinsey Institute library is only accessible for research by scholars and students and is not open to the general public (Kinsey Institute website).

Scarleteen: Alternative Consciousness-Raising

Scarleteen is an online sex and blog founded in 1998 by Heather Corinna, a feminist activist and sexuality counselor at the feminist women’s healthcare Center in Yakima, Washington. The center provides birth control, reproductive health care, and community education in an alternative setting. The health Center is one of only 14 non-for profit abortion providing feminist health centers in the country (Feminist Women’s Health Center website).

Addressing teenage questions and concerns regarding sexuality, Scarleteen provides a wealth of information on a variety of subjects covering teenage sex, birth control, body image, dating, breaking up, sexual orientation, etc. Scarleteen’s motto is “Sex ed for the Real World: Inclusive, Comprehensive and Smart Sexuality Information and Help for Teens and 20s” (Scarleteen website). This utilizes the Internet to create consciousness-raising in education outside of the usual structured environment of schools and parents. This is a good alternative for sex education since most parents themselves are not well educated on the subject and therefore lacked the scientific knowledge to bestow onto their children.

Sex Education in Public Schools in Chicago

There are recent developments in the teaching of sex education in Chicago schools. It has been announced that sex ed will be taught starting at the kindergarten level with age-appropriate issues in every subsequent grade. Kindergarten through third grade will learn about inappropriate touching, fourth-graders about puberty and HIV, fifth-graders about reproduction, contraception, and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STI’s. Students will also be taught about sexual orientation and gender identity although it does not mention which grades this would start in (Chicago Public Schools website). This is the result of Chief health officer for Chicago public schools, Dr. Stephanie Whyte, advocating for more comprehensive sex ed in schools due to data which demonstrates increased incidence of STI’s in the population of teens. Teenagers make up about one third of the reported cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea (Transforming Communities website).

CPS is framing this curriculum in the context of health and hygiene issues, in order to avoid the word “sex” which often times results in an overreaction from religious groups and the conservative movement. This of course hasn’t stopped the medium from being sensationalistic and framing the argument as exposing sex to children. A simple Google search reveals dozens of media sources as framing it in the context of “Sex Ed for Kindergartners?” thus courting controversy from the general public, which is typical of media to do regarding issues of sexuality. I had interviewed a principal a Chicago Public School in Chicago in order to find out more about the upcoming changes in sex education proposed for CPS schools. He stated that he had not heard anything about this before me mentioning it, and said that he would ask Mayor Emanuel on their next meeting together (Principle interview).

I was unable to obtain an interview with a principle or physical education/sex ed teacher at a public school, so I interviewed Miss Bodemueller, who is a high school student at a charter school in Chicago. She had taken sex ed classes in ninth and tenth grades (2011 – 2012). The co-ed class was taught by the physical education teacher and the course went on for about three weeks, three times a week, 80 minutes each day. The course covered STI’s, pregnancy, AIDS/HIV, condom use (demonstrated with a banana), tampon use, sexual orientation, yet did not cover issues regarding intersex. The teacher did however state that the teens are welcome to come to her in the future regarding further questions on sexuality (Miss B, interview).

In closing, I would like to state that the public knowledge on sexuality in America is still severely lacking. It never fails to amaze me how full-grown adults who are even older than me, are blissfully unaware of even the basics of anatomy and birth control. I should very much like to see a follow-up report on America’s literacy issues of sexuality conducted with a larger and more demographically representative sample. My educated guess is that the majority would still fail.

It is rather sad that we live in such a sexualized society, yet few seem to understand the basics of sex, gender, and reproduction; sexual illiteracy still prevails. The recurring theme found throughout the history of sex education in America is the opposition of the religious right and conservative leaders to any policies/movements which would educate the public on such issues. With knowledge comes power, and by limiting knowledge the public has less power to understand and control rights concerning women’s bodies and reproduction. I plan to go into sex education, preferably in an alternative setting environment, as well as work in research and advocacy order to address the innumerous misperceptions and myths that are pervasive within our society.


American Experience: Kinsey. Narr. Campbell Scott. PBS Television. Dvd. 2005

Ben Reisman Papers, UIC Special Collections, An inventory of the collection at the University of Illinois at Chicago

Billy Graham Takes on Sex Researcher Alfred Kinsey. Billyspot: The Unofficial Billy
Graham Blog. 15 April 2013. <>

Biography: Alfred Kinsey: Pioneer of the Sexual Revolution. Narr. Jack Perkins.
Biography Channel. BBC/Arts & Entertainment
Corporation. Videocassette recording. 1996.

Miss B., Charter School student, interview, April 22, 2013

Chaplin, Charles, Dir. The Kid Perf. Chaplin and Jackie Coogan. Chaplin – First
National, 1921.

Bullough, Vern. Science in the Bedroom: A History of Sex Research. New York: Basic
Books, 1994.


Chicago Public Schools website, Chicago Board of Education to Consider New Health Education Policy, 17 April, 2013, <>

 Cocks, H.G., Matt Houlbrook, ed. Palgrave Advances in the Modern History of
Sexuality. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006.

D’Emilio, John, Cycles of Change, Questions of Strategy: the Gay and Lesbian Movement after Fifty Years, was

Disney, Walt, The Story of Menstruation, You Tube. Video. 16 April 2013 <>

Feminist Women’s Health Center website, 17 April, 2013 <>

Inside the Kinsey Institute Library. 21 November 2008. You Tube. Video. 12 April 2013

Jones, James H., Alfred C. Kinsey: A Public/Private Life. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 1997.

Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, and Clyde E. Martin. Sexual Behavior in the
Human Male. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1948.

Kinsey, Alfred C., Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, Paul Gebhard. Sexual Behavior
in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1953.

Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction website. 10 March 2013.

Kinsey Institute phone interview, Jennifer Bass, Director of Communications, 23 April, 2013

Link, Arthur S., Richard L. McCormick, Progressivism,  Arlington Heights:  Harlen
Davidson, Inc, 1983.

Melody, M. E., Peterson, Linda M., Teaching America about Sex; Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the late Victorians to Dr. Ruth, New York University Press, New York, 1999

Planned Parenthood website: History and Success, 17 April, 2013 <>

 Principal, interview, April 23, 2013

Reinisch, June M. ed. The Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex: What You Must Know to be Sexually Literate. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

Steinem, Gloria. “Margaret Sanger: Her Crusade to Legalize Birth Control Spurred the
Movement for Women’s Liberation.” Time 13 April 1998. 10 April 2013

Transforming Communities website, Improved Sex Education Standards in Chicago K-12 Public Schools, 18 April, 2013, <>

 Vostral, Sharra L., Underwarps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology, Lexington Books, 2008

Weber, Lois, Dir. Where Are My Children? Perf. Tyrone Power, Sr, Juan de la Cruz.
Universal Film, 1916.

The Myth of Female Masochism, Debunking of Common Belief

The classic book, “The Myth of Women’s Masochism,” by Paula J. Caplin (2005, University of Toronto press) addresses the commonly held societal and psychoanalytic belief that females create and remain in painful relationships and situations because masochism is perceived as part of female nature. Caplan, analyzes the historical and psychoanalytical roots behind this myth. As a clinical and research psychologist, she explores how women are perceived by society and how women can empower themselves. She wrote another book entitled “Don’t Blame Mother” which I have not read but which would also be very interesting in relation to the subject matter of this course.

 “The Myth of Women’s Masochism” contributes greatly to the understanding of how motherhood is perceived in American society. A common theme in our readings and class discussions were “mother blame,” as well as physical and emotional suffering of women imposed on them by society. The medical establishment has imposed pain on women both with unethical misuse and research on birth control methods as well as the medicalization and pathology of pregnancy and labor.

Societal justification for the subordination of women goes back at least as far as the Old Testament. Religion has often been used as an argument for inequality between the sexes. The sadistic subjugation of women presented itself in the Old Testament when Eve is punished by God for giving Adam the apple. “To the woman He said, I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth. In pain you shall bring forth children; yet your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Genesis 3:16, New American Standard Bible, p 2). This only demonstrates that the subjugation of women has a long history and needs to be addressed from many different angles, including theological.

 In chapter 2: What the “Experts” Have Said, Caplan discusses what various prominent figures in the fields of medicine, sexology, and psychoanalysis have said on the subject of masochism. The pioneering German sexologist Dr. Richard von Krafft-Ebing coined the term ‘masochism’ in his classic work “Psychopathia Sexualis” published in 1886. He defined masochism and as “the wish to suffer pain and be subjected to force” (Caplan, 19). The concept that females are masochistic in nature took root when Freud followed with his writings on female masochism; Caplan states “although Freud wrote about masochism in both sexes, he explicitly said many times that masochism is feminine. Even masochistic behavior in a man was labeled feminine by Freud, so that masochism, which was not considered normal or typical in a man, was thought to be both in a woman” (Ibid, 20). This, in turn, influenced psychoanalytical theory which postulated that since motherhood is self-sacrificing (a mother would sacrifice her own needs in order to meet the needs of the children), anyone who neglects themselves is masochistic (Ibid, 50).

Chapter 3 “Mothers” discusses why pregnancy in the modern age is perceived as more masochistic than in previous eras. If one can avoid pregnancy (which is synonymous with pain) why not simply avoid it? According to that logic, unplanned pregnancy is a form of masochism. The work of mothering is considered degrading and low status in society, and therefore anyone who desires such work is masochistic and has low self-esteem. Despite the publication of “The Feminine Mystique” by Betty Friedan, women continue to remain silent for fear of being seen as an inadequate mother, i.e. not a real woman. Simone de Beauvoir stated that motherhood is not only natural but “divine”; “given that one can hardly tell women that washing up saucepans is the divine mission, they are told that bringing up children is the divine mission” (Ibid, 49).

Caplan delves into how, beginning in the 1940s, psychoanalytic theory and practice started to focus on “overanxious” and “overprotective” mothers as the source of various problematic behaviors and/or developments in their children. Mother blame is utilized as the cause of everything from antisocial behavior, to developmental difficulties, criminal behavior. Although psychoanalytic theory has advanced since then, we still live in the shadow of it. Others are still blamed because societal expectations of motherhood still focus on unrealistic ideals of perfection. Women are expected to balance work and child rearing yet have few resources to help in such matters.

Once the suburbanization of America occurred after World War II, women became more isolated and started living further away from domestic help and female kin who would otherwise have assisted in child rearing and domestic work. Caplan elaborates on how this placed an added pressure on women in regards to adhering to the strict gender code of “the perfect housewife” and “perfect mother.” Psychoanalyst at the time felt that the woman was unhappy with that situation and she must be a masochist (Ibid, 60). She also elaborates on the five major types of mother blame that healthcare professionals and psychologists refer to: information gathering; attribution of blame to either parent; whether only the mother only the father was involved in the therapy of the child; and references to previously published works on mother blaming (Ibid, 52).

In Chapter 7: Women as Victims of Violence, Caplan brings up the important point surrounding the common misconception of women’s “rape fantasies.” This type of fantasies interpreted as proof that “women are masochistic in one take force” (Ibid, 154), when in reality these type of fantasies a less about brutality more about the desire to be ravaged by someone one is attracted to and wishes to have sex with, but wishes the other person to make all the sexual advances. “Both men and women may enjoy occasional rape fantasies without actually desiring to raped. Men and women raised in the sexually repressive moralistic tradition may use a rape fantasy because it allows them to fantasize being forced to engage in and enjoy otherwise forbidden sexual practices” (Francoeur, 537). The operative term to remember is whether this is consensual or nonconsensual sex.

This book is eye-opening and provocative in its discussion of the subject. I found it to be pivotal in my understanding of how women are treated in society and how women may perceive themselves. The categorization of the chapters and the inclusion of an index are definitely useful streamlining the data. Inclusion of Kinsey’s study on male sexual behavior which demonstrated that “sexual masochism” is much more prevalent among males and females is useful but I wish she had given specific statistics relating to that.

There are few things which the book could have expanded on, such as the subject of sadomasochistic behavior as a larger societal problem. Societal male sadistic behavior is not limited to mistreating females; numerous examples can be found in institutionalized behaviors such as male rite of passage rituals throughout the world in which boys and men are mistreated and abused, humiliated. David Gilmore’s “Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity” gives an anthropological view of male rites of passage throughout the world. An almost universal common thread in this cross-cultural study is the use of brutal pain and humiliation bestowed upon the boys who must endure these rituals. Institutionalized sadistic behavior by elders and higher status males to subjugate younger males of lower status can be found in cultures throughout the globe. Whipping, beating, harassment, solitary confinement, scarring, and various other forms of abuse are common rites of passage. Therefore, this is a wider problem within society, since male abuse of other males is extremely common, arguably as common as male abuse of females. Examples within American society are hazing rituals within the military and fraternities. Another example in American society would be bachelor parties which are an institutionalized rite of passage ritual which focuses on the humiliation the soon-to-be bridegroom. This is all part of a hierarchical structure which is deeply embedded in our modern culture.
The fact that Caplan is a clinical and research psychologist gave this book a unique perspective on the subject. The use of prevailing clinical perspectives and viewpoints on the question of female masochism was tremendously insightful. Her book took the task of setting the record straight from a psychoanalytical standpoint and I felt she did splendid job at it. Her central arguments revolved around psychoanalytic theory and how women were treated through the eyes of mental health authorities, such as therapists and counselors.

Caplan dissects the arguments put forward by Freud and other prominent and influential figures by looking at the use of the word masochism in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). Since the DSM-III-R (third edition revised, published in 1987) only contains “sexual masochism” as a category and not standalone “masochism” as a disorder, she is that as an argument against classifying women as masochistic in a psychoanalytic context. At first the American psychiatric Association proposed the category of “Masochistic Personality Disorder,” but since there was no scientific evidence proving that anyone derived pleasure from suffering, the term was changed to
“Self-Defeating Personality Disorder,” the description of which sounds rather similar to that of “good wife syndrome,” which entails self-sacrifice to the detriment of one’s own needs (Ibid, xx).
            The fact that she does bring up rape fantasies is good, unfortunately though she doesn’t question the colloquial use of such a term and how it may be misinterpreted. If the Gay & Lesbian community can be officially renamed to LGBT, then why not officially rename this fantasy from “rape fantasy” to “ravishment fantasy”? A name change would do a better job of describing the feelings involved in this sort of fantasy and therefore, help to eliminate the misperception that women desire to be raped.  Nancy Friday’s research has revealed that men have the same type of fantasies (Friday, 275). Yet, when men have these types of fantasies they are not called “rape fantasies.” It is important to ask why this double standard exists.
This book is most enlightening and I would recommend it as required reading for women in all walks of life because many of the examples given here are all too familiar in daily life. I read this book many years ago and I find that the points brought up here are still fresh in my mind and relevant for various subjects from pair bond relationships to women in the workplace, and from therapy to body image. It is an excellent jumping off point for Gender and Women’s Studies students and contributes much food for thought for years to come.

Caplan, Paula, The Myth of Women’s Masochism, iUniverse, University of Toronto, 2005

Holy Bible, New American Standard, Broadman & Holman publishers, Nashville Tennessee, 1977

Francoeur, Robert, (ed), A Descriptive Dictionary and Atlas of Sexology, Greenwood Press, New York, 1991

Friday, Nancy, Men in Love: Men’s Sexual Fantasies: the Triumph of Love Over Rage, Dell Publishing, New York, 1981

Gilmore, David, Manhood in Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity, Yale University press, New Haven, CT, 1990