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1960’s New Sexuality for Women and Men




For the women born in 1940, they have to know that the women who informed them of their roles as women came from the place of their own experience where the number of children and the conditions of their lives were a consequence of the man and the family and the community in which they lived.  By 1950, as the highest level of babies were born in the United States after World War II, new paths emerged.  It’s hard to imagine what life was like during World War II where most people’s families  hung in the balance of the men at war and the sacrifices everyone made to support the war.


Many men returned broken, many did not return at all.  For the women who had been working in the factories, farms and shipyards, those jobs were returned to the men and they returned home.  The VA loan provided the means for many to leave their families of origin and the single family home purchase, as well as the things needed for the home-the refrigerators, the sofas, the toasters, and produced the post war boom in the economy very much needed.  This is where in 1963,  Betty Freiden’s book  The Feminine Mystique opened the conversation with women about the “Cult of Domesticity.”  First a rumor among the powerful women in New York who were openly and stridently challenging the “status quo” but then a gradual revisiting occurred across the country of who women were and what they wanted.

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Prior to this time, the conversation about women and their sexuality was framed in the medical context of function or dysfunction.   The function of sex to procreate and without the benefit of choice had women again rely on each other to find their own way of dealing with their husbands’ and society’s expectations of them.  The general issue was that women were not supposed to want to have sex out of marriage and so if there was no sex in the marriage, neither party had a place to take their concerns except their doctor or their chaplain.  The conversation brought up by Betty Frieden had women talk to each other about their own personal sexual experience, and the myth of “married bliss” was exposed.

The Dichotomy


Attitudes would change drastically during this period of time.  Life magazine did articles  on alternative lifestyles that were springing up.  It wasn’t just about philosophies, but had a very intense center if experimentation with male and female roles.   Young men drafted every day would face a war in Viet Nam that they neither understood, nor supported.  Prior to this time, the small voices of anti war rhetoric were an outgroup not even recognized by the population.  But young men torn from their families and communities with a war that became increasingly alien to them, and ultimately to the general population. It was messy.  Families had fights among themselves about their positions regarding the Viet Nam War.  It seemed unAmerican to not support the war. It was the young men who were drafted, and college campuses began to engage in protests against the war, and some engaged in  the Anti War Movement across the country.

The culture of politics and sexuality 1970

Bringing the women together for the anti war and civil rights  movement provided a format for women to consider their own roles in society, as well as to challenge the status quo of following along with the country’s attitudes about the war and about civil rights.   Jane Fonda in her antiwar activities became the focus of national attention in her kacki jeans with braless t shirt, no make up and long untethered hair.  From college campus to the  film industry and the media,  from California to New York, a social movement protesting the war and demonstrations that resulted in Ohio State where a college student was killed had the country aware of change underway the late 60’s.

Jane Fonda speak in 1970 at Stanford University,  conveyed the message of protest well as she spoke of her genuine support of the young soldiers who were dying in Viet Nam.  Her real intention was to support men and help share the burden the men were carrying for the country.  The long hair and blue jean clad young men on college campus represented the fact that the social and sexual identity of women and men was impacted by the changes underway in the country.  Masculine and feminine roles, with both men and women reevaluating their roles and their choices in determining the course of their lives and their  own choices in sexuality.  Life magazine had articles about the risk of loss of sexuality with men and women dressing the same with their blue jeans and t shirts, communal living and operating with the same level of sexual freedom.     Peace, justice and love were not just what the young people embroidered on their t shirts, this was a lifestyle they hoped to bring to the next generation.  Free of racial and sexual prejudice, out of the achievement orientation of the 50’s, they sought a new generation’s dreams of an equalitarian  society.

The Youngbloods,  The Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob  Dylan were the messengers of the new society seeking freedom and a world without war.  The clothing styles at I Magnin’s and the social pages of the San Francisco Chronicle conveyed the message of the potential of this new society of brotherhood and love.  

As it turned out, the sexual revolution of the late 60’s did impact the standards and behavior of the culture.  However, by the 80’s the communes were emptying, people were back in the harness of the lifestyles they had found lacking in imagination and creativity.  People had lives, they needed paychecks, and men and women went to work to have those lives that spilled out into the suburbs from the cities.

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