Dangerously sensual: the sexual revolution, feminisim, and grrl power in postwar America

Traymore, Bonnie
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
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This dissertation, "Dangerously Sensual: The Sexual Revolution, Feminism, and Grrl Power in Postwar America," analyzes the impact of the sexual revolution and feminism on women in postwar America. I argue that the cumulative impact of these two forces produced a "dangerously sensual" brand of female empowerment. I trace through an interrogation of American media and culture the evolution of a highly sexualized femininity from its postwar origins in the mid-1950s to the present. This assertive, sexualized female identity developed both as a response to the cultural and social backlash against feminism and women's liberation in the 1970s and 1980s and as a consequence of the increasing sexualization of America's cultural landscape. Women's issues have been inexorably linked to wider concerns in American society involving foreign policy and domestic affairs. The sexualization of American femininity began during the cold war when the consumer culture promoted consumption as patriotism and bolstered women's consumer power through a "sexual sell." The sexual revolution and the subsequent recognition of sex as a lucrative market furthered this trend. By the early 1960s, both married and single women struggled to embody new sexualized notions of femininity as the feminist movement gained momentum. The women's movement took a radical turn in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and radical feminists rooted their concerns about sexism in a wider critique of American society and foreign policy, particularly regarding the Vietnam War and racism. Liberationists also resis'ted the objectification and sexualization of women and some advocated lesbianism. This feminist extremism, however understandable, hastened a backlash against feminism and shifted some women's rights moderates into the anti-feminist camp. Part of the wider assault by the New Right on the Left and on an American society transformed by the liberalism of the 1960s and 1970s, this conservative critique of feminism contributed to women's dangerously sensual compromise: accepting the sexualization of femininity for the benefits of liberation and empowerment. The legacy of this compromise has become visible in the current "Grrl Power" movement, where many younger American women find flaunting their sexuality a perfectly valid expression of their liberation.
vii, 302 leaves
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). History; no. 4420
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