MultiSession Sexing Up the "Long" 1950s, Part 1: New Narratives in U.S. Gender and Sexuality Studies

AHA Session 229
Coordinating Council for Women in History 13
Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History 9
Sunday, January 8, 2012: 8:30 AM-10:30 AM
Addison Room (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Vicki L. Eaklor, Alfred University
David K. Johnson, University of South Florida

Session Abstract

This panel encourages new understandings of the “long” 1950s (roughly 1946 – 1964) in the United States.  It explores post-war, non-traditional narratives on how gender and sexuality informed contemporary social, cultural, and political discourse.  The panel urges scholarship to move beyond traditional “Cold War consensus” narratives.  Indeed, myopic interpretations of the period have muted histories of socially marginal people outside the periphery of mainstream society.  This panel rectifies this by revealing the vantage point of gender and sexual “outlaws,” including homosexuals, transgendered individuals, prostitutes, and “promiscuous” or "unchaste" women.  It reveals how these individuals contested dominant socio-cultural and political discourse by way of their non-normative expressions and behaviors. 

Julio Capó, Jr.’s presentation explores Miami’s social and cultural tug-of-war between legislating morality and promoting “degenerate” tourism, revealing how the city’s commodified leisure culture helped renegotiate acceptable sexual and gender norms.  Amanda Littauer’s work stresses how race and class affected perceptions of “female delinquency” in the “long” 1950s.  Stephanie Chalifoux’s work also investigates sexuality at the intersection of race and class by focusing on the Mann Act and the policing of organized sex rings.  She provides new context to examine women’s sexual choices, as well as sexual black markets in the rural South, while testing prevailing notions about women in the 1950s.  Tim Retzloff’s work investigates the importance of geographical spaces in the construction of gender and sexuality, providing the important context for the aforementioned case studies.  He explores how men’s pulp magazines depicted a spatial, sexual dichotomy:  suburbs as heterosexual and homosexuals as urban.

The panel’s presentations directly engage with the conference’s “Communities and Networks” theme.  It chronicles the distinct circumstances that influenced these marginalized communities to unite and protest, politically mobilize, and reform the status quo.  In doing so, this panel contextualizes gender and sexuality within the larger scope of several socio-global and domestic issues, including Cold War foreign policy, nationalism, race relations and the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, the Gay Rights Movement, consumerism, urbanization, juvenile delinquency, and familial disruption.

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