“Treacherous Sweetness”: Interwar College Girls, Lesbianism, and the Specter of Unchecked Femininity
Interwar denouncements of lesbian-leaning college girls revolved around gender deviance—though perhaps not in the way historians of sexuality have come to expect. Intimacies amongst the nation’s students initiated popular criticism, not of mannishness, inversion, or deficient femininity, but, rather, excessive femininity. Commentators from various social spheres worried that the overly feminine environments of women’s college campuses inculcated psychological rot amongst college girls: emotional maladjustment and sexual repression. The college girl with a “mash” on her best girl chum was seen as the embodiment of twisted female innocence, a signifier of the cultural wreckage entailed by uneven and excessively rapid social change. Highlighting the potential significance of femininity for lesbian history, this paper offers a challenge to the primacy of traditional understandings of gender transgression within queer historiography.
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