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Making Marriage Modern: Women's Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II

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The nineteenth-century middle-class ideal of the married woman was of a chaste and diligent wife focused on being a loving mother, with few needs or rights of her own. The modern woman, by contrast, was partner to a new model of marriage, one in which she and her husband formed a relationship based on greater sexual and psychological equality. In Making Marriage Modern, Ch The nineteenth-century middle-class ideal of the married woman was of a chaste and diligent wife focused on being a loving mother, with few needs or rights of her own. The modern woman, by contrast, was partner to a new model of marriage, one in which she and her husband formed a relationship based on greater sexual and psychological equality. In Making Marriage Modern, Christina Simmons narrates the development of this new companionate marriage ideal, which took hold in the early twentieth century and prevailed in American society by the 1940s. The first challenges to public reticence to discuss sexual relations between husbands and wives came from social hygiene reformers, who advocated for a scientific but conservative sex education to combat prostitution and venereal disease. A more radical group of feminists, anarchists, and bohemians opposed the Victorian model of marriage and even the institution of marriage. Birth control advocates such as Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger openly championed women's rights to acquire and use effective contraception. The companionate marriage emerged from these efforts. This marital ideal was characterized by greater emotional and sexuality intimacy for both men and women, use of birth control to create smaller families, and destigmatization of divorce in cases of failed unions. Simmons examines what she calls the flapper marriage, in which free-spirited young wives enjoyed the early years of marriage, postponing children and domesticity. She looks at the feminist marriage in which women imagined greater equality between the sexes in domestic and paid work and sex. And she explores the African American partnership marriage, which often included wives' employment and drew more heavily on the involvement of the community and extended family. Finally, she traces how these modern ideals of marriage were promoted in sexual advice literature and marriage manuals of the period. Though male dominance persisted in companionate marriages, Christina Simmons shows how they called for greater independence and satisfaction for women and a new female heterosexuality. By raising women's expectations of marriage, the companionate ideal also contained within it the seeds of second-wave feminists' demands for transforming the institution into one of true equality between the sexes.


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The nineteenth-century middle-class ideal of the married woman was of a chaste and diligent wife focused on being a loving mother, with few needs or rights of her own. The modern woman, by contrast, was partner to a new model of marriage, one in which she and her husband formed a relationship based on greater sexual and psychological equality. In Making Marriage Modern, Ch The nineteenth-century middle-class ideal of the married woman was of a chaste and diligent wife focused on being a loving mother, with few needs or rights of her own. The modern woman, by contrast, was partner to a new model of marriage, one in which she and her husband formed a relationship based on greater sexual and psychological equality. In Making Marriage Modern, Christina Simmons narrates the development of this new companionate marriage ideal, which took hold in the early twentieth century and prevailed in American society by the 1940s. The first challenges to public reticence to discuss sexual relations between husbands and wives came from social hygiene reformers, who advocated for a scientific but conservative sex education to combat prostitution and venereal disease. A more radical group of feminists, anarchists, and bohemians opposed the Victorian model of marriage and even the institution of marriage. Birth control advocates such as Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger openly championed women's rights to acquire and use effective contraception. The companionate marriage emerged from these efforts. This marital ideal was characterized by greater emotional and sexuality intimacy for both men and women, use of birth control to create smaller families, and destigmatization of divorce in cases of failed unions. Simmons examines what she calls the flapper marriage, in which free-spirited young wives enjoyed the early years of marriage, postponing children and domesticity. She looks at the feminist marriage in which women imagined greater equality between the sexes in domestic and paid work and sex. And she explores the African American partnership marriage, which often included wives' employment and drew more heavily on the involvement of the community and extended family. Finally, she traces how these modern ideals of marriage were promoted in sexual advice literature and marriage manuals of the period. Though male dominance persisted in companionate marriages, Christina Simmons shows how they called for greater independence and satisfaction for women and a new female heterosexuality. By raising women's expectations of marriage, the companionate ideal also contained within it the seeds of second-wave feminists' demands for transforming the institution into one of true equality between the sexes.

38 review for Making Marriage Modern: Women's Sexuality from the Progressive Era to World War II

  1. 4 out of 5

    Chris Cook

    This book, which I read for my history course, was a bit of a revelation. It was about how progressives and others decided to revise and improve marriage, coaxing it from the typical Victorian marriage to a marriage based on more equality between the man and the woman, while still keeping motherhood as an important goal of the unions. There was a sort of approach and avoidance situation that resulted, where the goals and intentions did not quite match the execution. This book helps explain why m This book, which I read for my history course, was a bit of a revelation. It was about how progressives and others decided to revise and improve marriage, coaxing it from the typical Victorian marriage to a marriage based on more equality between the man and the woman, while still keeping motherhood as an important goal of the unions. There was a sort of approach and avoidance situation that resulted, where the goals and intentions did not quite match the execution. This book helps explain why marriage has evolved to what it is today.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    I read this for a class on sexuality in America. Making Marriage Modern examines the evolution of American ideas about sexuality and gender roles with a focus on race and class. I recall that the writing is somewhat dry, but the book is also a quick read.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cynner

  5. 5 out of 5

    Madi

  6. 5 out of 5

    Heather Havens

  7. 4 out of 5

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  8. 5 out of 5

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  9. 4 out of 5

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  10. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adrianna Crowell

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

  13. 4 out of 5

    Jacquelyn Ulum

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jacqueline Antonovich

  15. 4 out of 5

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  16. 5 out of 5

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  17. 5 out of 5

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  18. 4 out of 5

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  19. 5 out of 5

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  20. 4 out of 5

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  21. 4 out of 5

    Wendy Rouse

  22. 5 out of 5

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  23. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  24. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

  25. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  26. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

  27. 5 out of 5

    Birdie123

  28. 5 out of 5

    Geetha

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jacquelyne.howard

  30. 5 out of 5

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  31. 4 out of 5

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  32. 4 out of 5

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  33. 4 out of 5

    Courtney Shah

  34. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  35. 4 out of 5

    Maxine Platzer Lynn Women's Center

  36. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Tucker-simmons

  37. 5 out of 5

    Jacquelyne Howard

  38. 4 out of 5

    Ivo

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