The American National character / сторінка 6
The American National character
In her work on racial and sexual violence, the historian Lisa Duggan argues that legal and medical discourses work to mobilize "a specifically American version of normative national sexuality" based on proper gender roles, whiteness, and respectability.
The specifics of what counts as "normative national sexuality" have varied: in the early nineteenth century, class- and race-based notions of respectability were crucial to individual reputations and community maintenance, while more recently the AIDS crisis has rendered concepts of health and disease central to normative sexuality. Americans after World War II, however, outstripped earlier generations in the fervor with which they made sexuality a legitimate topic and the extent to which they insisted on its relevance to postwar social problems. Experts disagreed, often vehemently, about exactly what was wrong with modern sexuality, but virtually all commentators who addressed the subject diagnosed grave problems with American behavior and mores. Sex surveys since the turn of the century had focused most often on bohemian urbanites or on marginalized groups such as prisoners, the poor, and the "feeble-minded," reflecting investigators’ conflicts over whether sexual behavior could best be understood by viewing the normative or the abnormal. Kinsey’s postwar studies, and the public debates about sex that they fostered, instead addressed the private behavior of "average" Americans. Nonmarital and nonreproductive sexuality had often been the subject of moral panic, but in the postwar United States even marital heterosexual behaviors were studied and interrogated, believed to reveal vital information about the state of the nation.
Ideas about American sexual character in the postwar United States were part of a powerful discourse that imagined the nation as middle class, white, and well assimilated to the dominant culture. As postwar industry and increased access to higher education expanded, many Americans whose ethnic or religious identities had kept them on the margins of the American mainstream in previous generations took on or secured middle-class status, culturally and economically. Americans who were working class or nonwhite, along with those who transgressed gender boundaries or violated moral codes, served as the outsiders against whom the expanding middle class defined themselves. With these demographic and cultural changes in mind, I attempt throughout the book to consider the blind spots and silences of available sources. Some of these spring from the ways in which the postwar authorities I read compartmentalized their discussions of American sexuality. Although these authorities addressed a wide range of issues in their analyses of social and sexual change, some sexual issues and experiences received relatively little attention: incest, intergenerational sex, and rape and other forms of sexual violence, for example, were most often framed as criminal matters rather than incorporated into discussions of everyday adult sexuality. Other silences in my sources stem less from postwar experts’ organization of knowledge than from their assumptions about what narratives, categories, and people mattered. Sexual literature facilitated some viewpoints more than others, and authors were predominantly male, overwhelmingly white, and drawn primarily from elite groups like scientists, cultural critics, educators, and journalists. Virtually all of them also had to negotiate issues of respectability and prurience, positioning their work as sober fact, lurid sensationalism, and every combination in between. In interrogating their work, I have tried to consider the multiple roles of and silences about class, racial, and other differences in postwar literature on national character and sexuality, along with the ways in which these authors’ analyses were shaped by the subjects they chose and audiences they anticipated.
б) The other features of character
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