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.
"If you imagine that it took the sexual revolution of the 1960s to rumple the marriage bed, read this book--a very revealing, serious, and highly useful study of changes in thinking about sex and marriage before World War II."--Nancy F. Cott, author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation "In this important book, Christina Simmons insightfully examines the ideas and impact of intellectuals, novelists, advice writers, reformers, and radicals who forged a new vision of marital sexuality in the early twentieth century. In so doing, she illuminates the range of views--about heterosexual companionship, sexual knowledge, and female independence--that made marriage modern in the 1920s and 1930s, and continue to shape attitudes to the present day."--Kathy Peiss, author of Hope in a Jar "In a carefully researched and crisply written account, Simmons reconstructs debates--about sex for pleasure, privacy for couples, and equality for women--that still have relevance for us today. A smart, engaging, and important book."--Joanne Meyerowitz, author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States "Challenging both the myth of Victorian repression and the notion that it took women's liberation to transform the institution of marriage, Christina Simmons traces profound changes in sexual and marital relations from the 1910s through the 1940s. She analyzes debates over intimacy, privacy, freedom, and reciprocity among reformers, intellectuals, sex radicals, educators, therapists, physicians, novelists, and playwrights. Deeply researched and lucidly argued, Making Marriage Modern changes the terrain for all future discussions of marriage in the twentieth century."--Nancy A. Hewitt, Rutgers University "Simmons' complex interpretation of white and African American sources maps a range of competing sexual ideals. Grounded in sex advice literature, marriage manuals, and reform tracts, this book will fascinate readers and provide important perspectives on contemporary debates over sex education, reproductive rights, and the changing definition of marriage."--Estelle B. Freedman, author of No Turning Back: The History of Feminism and the Future of Women.
Series: Studies in the History of Sexuality
Audience: Tertiary; University or College
Number Of Pages: 318
Published: 1st April 2009
Dimensions (cm): 24.2 x 16.4 x 2.3
Weight (kg): 0.58