Thursday, February 27, 2020

Sexuality and the Limits of State Power

More from Richard Vinen's A History in Fragments: Europe in the 20th Century, which has an interesting chapter on sexuality and the family between the World Wars. You might think that the emboldened female sexuality of the "flapper" era in the 20s was shocking to religious conservatives, but that was not always so. The sexual issue that most worried many conservatives was the falling birth rate, so they saw a lot of potential in eroticized femininity. Some of the female sex symbols of the era were conservative religious women, I guess resembling Marabel Morgan and other sexy evangelical wives of America in my lifetime. Also the most liberated, highly educated women had a habit of falling back into the most conservative roles, for example as mistresses of prominent men (like Simone de Beauvoir).

And this:
Changing perceptions of women, the family and sexual relations cannot be separated from thinking about other matters. The two wars and the advent of states with new ambitions to mold the lives of their citizens meant that "public" affairs were more likely than ever before to intrude into private life. . . . Broadcasting, cinema and publishing created new sorts of public domains. It should also be remembered that the private world often showed a remarkable capacity to resist demands made on it. States that had unprecedented capacities to raise taxes, mobilize soldiers and even exterminate whole sections of their populations often found it impossible to raise the birth rate.

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