Underground Feminists and Homophiles: “The Problems that Have No Name”

  • Van Gosse


The image of 1950s America as conformist and repressive seems most accurate in terms of gender—the sexual and cultural dividing line between girls and boys, men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals. In other areas of society there was visible ferment, from civil rights to the enthusiasm for Fidel Castro. Regarding sexuality and reproduction, however, the structures of authority in American society after 1945 seemed intent on maintaining an older way of life. A neo-Victorian moral code discouraged premarital sex and enforced the double standard, while frank depictions of sexuality were forbidden in movies, books, newspapers, magazines, and on radio and television. A purportedly traditional set of familial arrangements was promoted in all of these media, asserting women’s natural and exclusive role as wives and mothers. Gone were the spunky factory girls and independent businesswomen portrayed in the popular culture of the 1930s and 1940s—the ideal woman was now either a maternal housewife or an exaggerated, voluptuous “sex bomb” like Marilyn Monroe. Left out of the housewife-and-mother ideal were the millions of women too poor or too independent to fit in.


Democratic Party Police Raid Equal Right Amendment Workplace Segregation Labor Feminist 
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A Selected Bibliography

  1. Over the past two decades, beginning withGoogle Scholar
  2. Cynthia Harrison, On Account of Sex: The Politics of Women’s Issues, 1945–1968 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988) andGoogle Scholar
  3. Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The American Women’s Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1990), there has been an extensive reconstruction of the women’s politics in the 1945–1965 decades. More recent works includeGoogle Scholar
  4. Susan M. Hartmann, The Other Feminists: Activists in the Liberal Establishment (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998) and the wide-ranging studies collected inGoogle Scholar
  5. Joanne Meyerowitz, ed., Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in Postwar America, 1945–1960 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1994). Especially important recent works includeGoogle Scholar
  6. Daniel Horowitz, Betty Friedan and the Making of “The Feminine Mystique”: The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998) andGoogle Scholar
  7. Dorothy Sue Cobble, The Other Women’s Movement: Workplace Justice and Social Rights in Modern America (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2004), which forces one to move women in the labor movement to the forefront of a narrative formerly focusing on business and professional women.Google Scholar
  8. The scholarship on homophile politics is relatively sparse. D’Emilio’s Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities remains indispensable, and is ably complimented by Marc Stein’s massive commu-nity study, City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–1972 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000).Google Scholar

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© Van Gosse 2005

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  • Van Gosse

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