I’m currently reading an essay for tonight’s class which examines the popular images of women in post-war America, and explores the cultural messages those images are meant to convey. The focal images are the lesbian and the prostitute, and the essayist (Donna Penn) use multiple sources (films, textbooks, propaganda and cultural attitudes) to show the link that was created between lesbians and prostitutes as sexual deviants. It’s really quite a funny essay – Penn does not deviate at all from academic language, but it’s clear that she’s as amused (and affronted) as I am by the portrayal of sexually empowered women as deviants and demons who threaten traditional social values, common morality and even national security.

My favorite quote from the essay, however, comes from a speech given in 1947 by Dr. Carleton Simon, criminologist for the International Association of Chiefs of Police (context: homosexuality and its link to criminal behavior):

Psychopathic women homosexualists – commonly called Lesbians, also Sapphists…are fickle minded and always eager to add to their list of conquests. They seek new acquaintances, not solely as passive victims but also as active participants…They are…extremely jealous of the object of their lust…Usually large cities attract them, where the selective field is more expanded and where, if necessary, they can cover up their predilections…Though the victim of acquired sexual obsession, they may have lofty ideals and many marry and find eventual a normal sex adjustment.

Whew. Good to know that there’s a chance I may recover from this psychopathic acquired obsession. I’d hate to think I might be fickle minded forever.

(The reading is excerpted from Donna Penn’s The Sexualized Woman: the Lesbian, the Prostitute and the Containment of Female Sexuality in Post War America)

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