Book Review: Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture

Review by Matt Kowal34409163

Modern depictions of the American South often consist of a confined set of characteristics – hospitable family values, religious purity, and racial tensions. While this perception of the South certainly stems from the observable reality, it fails to address seldom mentioned yet detectable attributes of the region: gay tourist destinations in Panama City, syphilis outbreaks in Orlando, and the social manifestation of repressed sexual desires.

Trent Brown’s Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture examines the sexual history of the American South from the early 20th century to the present through a series of essays on topics ranging from the underground sex trade in Alabama to the allure of sexual depravity baked into the Florida Panhandle’s tourism industry.  While the anthology’s contributing historians focus on disparate topics, Brown incorporates their work into a coherent volume that explores the diverse characteristics that define Southern sexuality. In his introduction, Brown notes a dichotomy of sexual expression in Southern culture, describing the region as both “sexually open and sexually closed, as sometimes outwardly chaste and inwardly sultry, and as simply sexually demonstrative and open” (13).

Indeed, Brown observes a fluid perception of Southern sexuality permeating each essay. According to Richard Hourigan (Creating the Perfect Mancation), a stroll through Myrtle Beach almost certainly entails “seeing a strip club or listening to one of their tacky, sexually charged promotions” (113). Meanwhile, Krystal Humphreys (“A Bonfire of Chastity”) details the ideal southern Christian woman as openly chaste and sexually pure; an indelible standard representative of the South. Similarly, Jerry Watkins (“A Queer Destination”) notes that the LGBTQ community in Florida “quietly flourished in the 1950s” despite government pressures and homophobic rhetoric (136). Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture contrasts public disdain for openly-lewd individuals with a private lust for pleasure; it draws attention to the way a perception of ostensibly-Southern chastity serves to accentuate illicit sexual acts. Yet the anthology goes beyond a simple survey of Southern sexuality. It challenges the existing narrative of a romanticized South that prides itself in chastity and monogamy by calling attention to histories of homosexuality, a sexually charged tourism industry, and the glorification of obscenity. It questions the narrative of Southern purity and public censorship, seeking to historicize how and why Southerners have come to maintain these seemingly contradictory beliefs and practices. Sex and Sexuality also incorporates an analysis of the interplay between sexuality and race, exploring the compounding impact of the South’s history of slavery and segregation.

Southern historians, activists, and those well-versed in the South’s relation to the history of chattel slavery in the United States may find similarities in the white Southern violence and vulgarity intended to demonstrate authority and that used to repress social movements during the Civil Rights era. Francesca Gamber (“We Raised Them Up Never Even to Look at One”) considers the sexual and racial climate of the South in the 1960s asserting that “black women were particularly vulnerable to physical remonstrance…the sexual subtext of many of these attacks was seldom subtle” (73). Gamber notes the use of sexual threats and appalling shows of violence as a way to enforce submission with one extreme instance involving a police officer beating a pregnant woman, thereby causing a miscarriage. Furthermore, Katherine Henniger (“The Mandingo Effect”) recognizes the 1975 film, Mandingo as a candid expression of Southern sexually charged racial tension. Henniger credits Mandingo with acknowledging “white sexual and moral depravity in race relations, but firmly defines and confines it as southern” – perhaps to demonstrate the evolution of these prejudices into the entertainment sphere since their supposed Civil Rights-era suppression (180).

Ultimately, Sex and Sexuality in Modern Southern Culture considers what appears on the surface to be a simple question: how is sexuality manifested in the American South? However, as the anthology’s contributors demonstrate, the heterogeneous and often contradictory nature of Southern sexualities challenges us to ask a multitude of subsequent questions regarding the interaction of public and private spheres, the state of Southern homosexuality, and the role of race. Despite the challenge of containing such multitudes, Trent Brown provides a concise yet comprehensive overview of sexual history in an enigmatic region that leaves the reader satisfied. This anthology supplies an invaluable resource to cultural historians thirsting for knowledge on one of the most beguiling regions of the United States (and perhaps even the world).

 

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Winter/Spring 2018 Table of Contents

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Dósis 1.1: sickness and health in the era of Trump

Brandy Schillace, Editor-in-Chief
Hanna Clutterbuck-Cook, Managing Editor
Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook, Review Editor

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Editorial

Sickness and Health in the Era of Trump
Brandy Schillace, Editor-in-Chief

Features

Women’s Health in the Age of Trump
Rosemary Talbot Behmer Hansen

Theorizing Madness in Maddening Times
Kellie Herson

Sex Work and Public Health in the Age of Trump
Stephanie Kaylor

The Global Gag Rule: A Policy Without a Cause
Priyanjana Pramanik

Reviews

The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities by Anne Whitehead, et. al.
Review by Burcu Alkan

The Wrong Way to Save Your Life by Megan Stielstra
Review by Julia Brown

Reproductive Justice: An Introduction by Loretta J. Ross and Rickie Solinger
Review by Anna J. Clutterbuck-Cook

Politics of the Pantry: Housewives, Food, and Consumer Protest in Twentieth-Century America by E. LB. Twarog
Review by Emily J. H. Contois

Ask: Building Consent Culture by Kitty Stryker, ed.
Review by Pam Harvey

Our Lady of Charity in Ireland by Jacinta Prunty
Review by David Kilgannon

True Sex: The Lives of Trans Men at the Turn of the 20th Century by Emily Skidmore
Review by Laura Koch

Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding, eds.
Review by Heather Stewart

Border Patrol Nation: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Homeland Security by Todd Miller
Review by Molly Todd

The Death Gap: How Inequality Kills by David A. Ansell
Review by Susan Zinner

Call for Pitches: Summer 2018

Issue 1: 2: Health, Gender, Embodiment [CFP for Summer 2018 closed]

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Book Review: The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, edited by Anne Whitehead, et. al.

Review by Burcu Alkan.

Edited by Anne Whitehead and Angela Woods, et al., The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities (Edinburgh University Press, 2016) covers a wide variety of topics in the burgeoning field of medical humanities in four parts and thirty-six chapters. The term “critical” stresses the book’s theoretical and methodological concerns. The editorial introduction establishes the emergence of a “second wave” as a development from the earlier scholarship that was primarily preoccupied with ethics, education, and experience. In their chapter, “Entangling the Medical Humanities,” Des Fitzgerald and Felicity Callard ask:

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How might the methodological and intellectual legacies of the humanities intervene more consequentially in the clinical research practices of biomedicine – situating accounts of illness, suffering, intervention and cure in a much thicker attention to the social, human and cultural contexts in which those accounts, as well as the bodies to which they attend, become both thinkable and visible?

This volume is thus a collection of essays that seeks to fine-tune the position of the field’s evolving theoretical framework.

The general editors, Whitehead and Woods are academics working at English departments, Newcastle and Durham universities in England respectively, and their professional skills in critical analysis inform their interdisciplinary endeavours. The writers of the collection are scholars from a variety of fields in humanities and social sciences and artists who are actively engaged with the biomedical in its various guises. This fusion proves to be particularly interesting as each chapter is in dialogue with the others, establishing an organicism that is not always found in edited collections. Continue reading “Book Review: The Edinburgh Companion to the Critical Medical Humanities, edited by Anne Whitehead, et. al.”