Queer 1950s pp 13-28 | Cite as

The Long 1950s as Radical In-Between: The Photography of Herbert Tobias

  • Jennifer V. Evans
Part of the Genders and Sexualities in History book series (GSX)


For years, Elaine Tyler May’s 1988 Homeward Bound set the tone for the way we understood the 1950s. Using the metaphor of containment to explain gender roles and sexuality in the post-WWII era, she argued that the Cold War West linked sexual deviance to political deviation, necessitating the containment of communism via the promotion of marriage and matrimony, isolating queers from public life in a series of lavender scares. In this telling, the 1950s were a period of intense sexual conservatism where ‘fears of sexual chaos made non-marital sexual behaviour in all its forms… a national obsession’.1 On both sides of the Iron Curtain, non-normative, non-marital sex threatened more than moral decline; if left unchecked, it could imperil reproductive citizenship and undercut the strength of the nation.2 This yearning for heteronormative ideals was a response to postwar scarcity, piecemeal living conditions, and increasing antagonism on the Cold War stage.3 But as Dagmar Herzog has argued for the West German case, sexuality was not just a marker of stabilisation. In the postwar decades, sexual relations ‘became premier sites for memory-management’ as successive governments attempted to come to terms with the lingering impact (and in some cases continued appeal) of Nazism. In her compelling account of the sexual politics of 1960s social movements, student radicals and members of the New Left perceived their own healthful embrace of sexual impulses in contradistinction to the perceived sexual conservatism of the 1950s, which was not only a misnomer but also a misremembering of sexual attitudes and practices from the first half of the twentieth century.


Sexual Liberalism Rape Fantasy Sexual Conservatism Nazi Period Postwar Decade 
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Copyright information

© Heike Bauer and Matt Cook 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer V. Evans

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