Review: Remaking Love: The Feminization of Sex by Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, & Gloria Jacobs

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Every once in a while I like to go to my university’s “sexuality” area, which coincidentally is the poorest lit area of the library. I admit it, I’m kind of a nerd for this stuff. I like looking at sex from an intellectual stand-point, and my intellect is fiercely feminist, so I usually do end up reading books like Remaking Love, a feminist analysis of female gains in the sexual revolution.

The book was written in 1986, so there are obviously some things that make it dated in the field of feminist research, namely that it assumes white, heterosexual women as the female norm, making it feel a little incomplete. But, besides that, it’s interesting in a sort of snap-shot sort of way, and gives historical perspective as to what  we would now call sex-positive feminists were writing about sex in the 80s. It also gives insight to the dramatic changes in attitudes on and practice of female sexuality, from the original sexual conservatism of the 1950s to the newer, backlash-fueled conservatism of the 80s with modern fears of promiscuity and HIV.

Although it’s dated, the overall message of the book is still relevant: male sexuality didn’t change all that much in the 20th century, but female sexuality did a whole lot. I’d be interested in a more recent take on this subject, especially dealing with the question of the stagnancy of male sexuality. The feminization of sex here is more the appearance of female voices in the sexual conversation (as a result of the demystification of the conversation in the first place), but sex as a whole remains unchanged for most men, except for maybe the minor inconvenience of gender equity in the bedroom. I’d argue that the next sexual revolution should be a re-imagining of what heterosexual male sexuality can be, in order to turn it into something less socially toxic. A truer feminization, perhaps.

Until then, I’m grateful to live in a post-sexual revolution world where women at least have some agency in their sexual lives. This wasn’t something my mother’s generation always had and it’s definitely something my grandmother’s generation went without. This book is a good reminder of that, as well as a reminder that conservatism comes in waves, and progress is ongoing.

****

Book Challenge Progress: 2/70
Currently Reading: Still working on Wuthering Heights.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Remaking Love: The Feminization of Sex by Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, & Gloria Jacobs

  1. Thanks for the great post! I’ll add the book to my should-read list. It’s refreshing to see an intellectual discussion of sexuality when the discourse is typically ANYTHING but intellectual. 🙂

    A couple of thoughts –
    1. I would think that maybe masculine sexuality has probably changed more than perhaps it is given credit for. Harvey Milk? Stonewall? There were huge upheavals in the 20th century for gay men and other men who simply didn’t identify with heteronormativity (Gore Vidal?) I think of people like Little Richard, the early rock-and-roll singer, who was anything but typically straight. I read somewhere that the World Wars allowed men to explore sexuality that would have been disapproved in civilian life – far away from the discerning eyes of prudish American culture. Post-war, you see this obsession with normalizing not just women’s but also men’s sexuality – for example the PSAs warning us of the dangers of *GASP* the homosexual! So I think that there probably could be a lot more study into masculinity and men’s sexuality in history and how it might relate to the sexual revolution.

    2. I don’t really believe that I live in a post-sexual revolution world. I don’t think we’re even close. And that’s understandable, culturally speaking, because it has all happened so quickly. It is hard for us millennials to remember, but school segregation is only a couple of generations back! There are many people living today who grew up risking being assaulted by police just for SEEMING gay. It’s only very recently that public opinion has come around.

    And it shows. Schoolchildren hurling “gay” as an insult like there’s no tomorrow. Rape and hate crimes, every day. The religious right demonizing ANYTHING that doesn’t conform to the “sex is only for married couples to make babies” paradigm (and they are still ***extremely*** influential in this country). Republicans saying things like “legitimate rape” (and yes, people vote for them). “Slut-shaming” (two words – Sandra Fluke).

    I don’t know if you live in a major metropolitan area, but please imagine for me a high school student in any average small town in the U.S. Now imagine that high schooler deliberately cross dressing. I’m not even talking codpieces or fake boobs. I’m just talking about a young man who decides to wear a skirt to class or a young woman who comes to prom in a tux. They would NOT be safe. At all. And that’s just CLOTHES, for heaven’s sake. We can’t even dress without being afraid of not conforming, let alone other oh-so-subversive acts like daring to fall in love or have a casual lay with someone of the same sex.

    When I can go to the store and not see men’s and women’s clothing sections but simply “Apparel” – THEN I’ll be satisfied that I live in a peaceful, respectful, post-sexual revolution world 🙂

    Off my soapbox! Liked, followed, and reblogged. Thank you again for the great piece.

    P.S. Please check out my WordPress account as well! I have a ton of feminist-related content as well as many other important themes there (just click the tag cloud on the right to find content you’re interested in). Help me reach 25 followers!

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment! I agree with everything you’ve said. When it all comes down to it, so much of what constricts people in their sexual lives is a result of the policing of gender roles. I have seen recently more talk and understanding about the fluidity of gender, but there still is so much more to be done. I think talking about it is the first step–once people realize that gender divisions are arbitrary, I think there will be more acceptance for people who deviate from the “norm” of their assigned gender roles.

      Women are allowed more flexibility in this area, in my opinion–it is far more acceptable for women to dress in masculine styles nowadays, for instance. There still seems to be this obsession with upholding masculinity in men, and I think this definitely contributes to sexualized violence and homophobia.

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