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Sexual Reckonings: Southern Girls in a Troubling Age
"As public policy wars over morality rage unabated, the bodies of teenage girls and young women remain the battleground, making this book an urgent read. In Sexual Reckonings, historian Susan Cahn examines how black and white teenage girls threw off patriarchal sexual standards and negotiated new freedoms in the early-20th-century South, and how that negotiation remade Southern society." France Winddance Twine, Ms. Magazine (read the entire Ms. Magazine review)
Synopses & Reviews
Sexual Reckonings is the fascinating tale of adolescent girls coming of age in the South during the most explosive decades for the region. Focusing on the period from 1920 to 1960, Susan Cahn reveals how both the life of the South and the meaning of adolescence underwent enormous political, economic, and social shifts. Those years witnessed the birth of a modern awareness of adolescence and female sexuality that clashed mightily with the white supremacist and patriarchal legacies of the old South. As youth staked its claim, the bodies and beliefs of southern girls became the battlefield for a transformed South, which was, like them, experiencing growing pains.
Cahn reveals how young women, both white and black, were seen as the South's greatest hope and its greatest threat. Viewed as critical actors in every regional crisis, from the economic recession and urban migrations of the 1920s to the racial conflicts precipitated by school desegregation in the 1950s, female teenagers became the conspicuous subjects of social policy and regional imagination. All the while, these adolescents pursued their own desires and discovered their own meanings, creating cracks in the twin pillars of the Jim Crow South — "racial purity" and white male dominance — that would soon be toppled by the student-led civil rights movement.
Sexual Reckonings is an amazingly intimate look at a time of deep personal exploration and profound cultural change for southern girls and for the society they inhabited, a powerful account of the clash between a society's fears and the daily lives and aspirations of its most prized, and unpredictable, population.
"Carefully researched and beautifully written, Sexual Reckonings forges a new path by tying the history of southern adolescence to the South's own coming of age." Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
"[A] fascinating look at how young women fit into and affected southern patriarchy and notions of racial purity." Vanessa Bush, Booklist
"This impressive history of the sexual cultures of southern black and white adolescent girls pays careful attention to social fears of sexual danger, state regulatory policies, and the experience of the young women who reshaped sexual meanings over the first half of the twentieth century. Cahn persuasively argues for the centrality of adolescent female sexuality to southern politics, from the changing racial focus of forced sterilizations to the shifting grounds for white resistance to school desegregation." Estelle B. Freedman, author of Feminism, Sexuality, and Politics
"Sexual Reckonings is a significant analysis of how black and white teenage young women reshaped their world in the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Based on extensive and imaginative sources, Cahn's work is nuanced, challenging, and brilliantly argued." Pete Daniel, author of Toxic Drift: Pesticides and Health in the Post-world War II South
"Susan K. Cahn offers an empowering, well-researched, and refreshing look at the South's transformation from the period of 1920 to 1960. She relies on anecdotal evidence of countless adolescent girls, integrating their narratives with the larger narrative of Southern political, economic and cultural change...From poor white girls targeted for 'reform' to wartime pickup girls to the rock 'n' roller, Cahn gives readers an insightful understanding of history that will leave you intrigued, indignant, entertained and even confer value on anyone who has suffered injustices, nourishing the possibility for change." Sofia Marin, Feminist Review
About the Author
Susan K. Cahn is Associate Professor of History, State University of New York, Buffalo.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Scarlett Redux
1. "Holding Excitement in Their Hands": The Southern "Girl Problem"
Conclusion: Sex, Memory, and the Segregated Past
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