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Women, Girlie Pictures Cheesecake, in the Mid-Twentieth-Century and Borderline Material: U.S. Responses to Joanne

Women, Girlie Pictures Cheesecake, in the Mid-Twentieth-Century and Borderline Material: U.S. Responses to

Joanne Meyerowitz

Journal (Article) of Women's History, Volume 8, Number 3, Fall 1996, pp. 9-35

Published DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2010.0424 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

by The Johns Hopkins University Press For additional information about this article

For additional information about this article


Access Provided by The University of Iowa Libraries at

Women, Cheesecake, and Borderline


Mid-Twentieth-Century Responses to Girlie Pictures U.S. in the

Joanne Meyerowitz

is, The arguably, proliferation among in the the mass most media significant of sexual developments representations in twentieth- of women popular century U.S. culture. women's Stated history, simply, the illustrations history of and sexuality, photographs and the of history scantily of boards, calendars, television, movies, and magazines. The exposed female Since body edly questioned appears the protests ubiquitously the against meanings Playboy as of our the magazine primary mass marketing in public 1969, symbol feminists of the of female have eroticism. repeat- body. In fact, angry debates over mass-produced sexual representations recently

clad and nude women, once considered disreputable, now grace bill-

split the U.S. women's movement.1

Curiously, historians have scarcely addressed this phenomenon. His- nudity tories tend to of in dwell erotic the Euro-American on images the battles generally and fine negotiations focus arts tradition, either between on and illicit histories predominantly pornography of censorship or male on moralists essay, I shift and the predominantly focus from pornography male modernists and and art and entrepreneurs.2 battles among In men this widely to popular marketed magazines forms of and sexual debates representation—cheesecake among women. I examine and the border- most

line material—and the vociferous public responses of women.3 This his-

"woman's tory demonstrates issue" well that before commodified the contemporary sexual feminist representation movement. was As a them. ipated sexual The images actively open of in battles women constructing between multiplied arguments women in the popular not to endorse only culture, involved as well women moralism, as protest partic- ity, female beauty, feminism, racial equality, and maternalism. cultural This contests discourse over on changing sexual imagery sexual belongs codes. The within rise a of larger popular context erotic of sexuality images was that one assigned component a heightened of a broader value transformation to nonprocreative toward heterosexu- a modern ries, ality. sexologists As sexual mores and other changed experts in the regulated late nineteenth sexuality and by twentieth codifying centu- and

modernism, and mass-marketed culture but also concepts of respectabil-

© 1996 Journal of Women's History, Vol. 8 No. 3 (Fall)


Journal of Women's History


disseminating new definitions of "normal" and "abnormal" behavior.4 On

a more popular level, the entrepreneurs who mass-produced sexual rep-

resentations and the consumers who viewed them also constructed and

categorized sex. Through the thousands of images they commodified and consumed, arousing; they they also not distinguished only defined and respectable redefined sexual what spectacle was attractive from and the the can unstable slang In the "cheesecake" early categories twentieth of entered a century, new taxonomy the a common new language of sexual parlance emerged display. around to The 1915 represent Ameri- as a term for publicly acceptable, mass-produced images of semi-nude

questionable and taboo.

women.5 As "cheesecake" spread through the popular culture, the term

borderline gap "borderline between material, material" respectable and came cheesecake pornography to refer and to erotic did illicit not pornography.6 imagery progressively that stretched Cheesecake, unveil the the women's reality popular of culture. bodies sex or from of They women's the helped margins bodies; define of rather, obscenity certain they to bodily removed the center images some of mainstream images as clean, of healthy, others line material, as and dirty, wholesome, and taboo, pornography and enjoyed grotesque. changed by "normal" The content over men time. of and cheesecake, Not women, surprisingly, and border- left cheesecake pictures in mid-century differed from cheesecake pictures

forty years earlier.7 But into the 1960s the categories themselves provided

a widely accepted classificatory schema, a schema at least as important as

the oft noted one that distinguishes "art" from "obscenity."8 The changing sexual of content art, marked display of cheesecake the and shifting of normal and and borderline visual contested pleasure.9 material, boundaries like of the respectable changing content female welcomed or against Women the a joined visual respectability in rhetoric this process of that certain they of classification sexual read as images. a positive when Women they post-Victorian supporters argued for contrast, rejection women of bodily protesters shame and struggled a healthy to reassert respect their for diminishing female beauty. moral In They authority, publicly to wrest denounced control the from new the taxonomy mass market of sexual of supply display and which demand. they women saw and embattled Historians as harmful, not only participants of especially as American objects in of to women, the sexual women construction myself representation and youth. included, of sexual These but sometimes meanings. also contests as engaged portray reveal lions. twentieth-century often appears In the early as an twentieth battles epochal over century, rift sexuality in which for example, middle-class as sporadic the generational "sexual flappers, revolution" working- rebel-


Joanne Meyerowttz


class "charity girls," and feminist "new women" routed older Victorian suggest a recurring conflict not resolved as one generation allegedly tri- repeatedly complicated served than generational as a battlefield divides. for conflicting The disputed cultural meanings visions of more the exposed This female article body begins sometimes with a short stood chronology at the center of of the these rise fights. of popular sexual representations in the United States and of women's early public their mass-circulation century zine, disgust the episodes battles with magazines. over in the which "girlie commercialized women In pictures" the Post articulated Office in sexual Ebony hearings representations both and their Negro on Esquire pleasure Digest, found maga- and the in women debates arrayed in Playboy, themselves and the national on opposing campaign sides against of an ideological "girlie magazines," fault line

responses, both pro and con. It then focuses in depth on mid-twentieth

umphed over its predecessor. In twentieth-century America, sexuality has

mores.10 The battles over cheesecake and borderline material, however,

still visible on our current cultural terrain.

A Brief History Through the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, popular books, routinely magazines, seen and in newspapers the mass media did today. not include For the the nineteenth-century kinds of bodily images Amer-

museums, guise ican middle of fine they class, art sometimes representation public displays courted of beauty, of censure.11 nudity but even were Erotic then, acceptable representations on display under in the art of nude and semi-nude women flourished, though, in the urban underworld

of commercialized sex. Saloons decorated with paintings of female nudes,

cheap museums with lascivious exhibits, and tableaux vivants, or living boat hoods picture docks where shows and the with in sex railway female trade throve. stations, models Men decked and purchased during in tights, the erotic Civil arose pictures War, in neighbor- at soldiers steam- After the Civil War, images from the demimonde trickled into the neurs promoted sexual entertainments to a wider market. In the late 1860s, burlesque the wild success troupe of Lydia the musical Thompson extravaganza and Her British The Black Blondes Crook established and the "girlie scandal women's shows" sheets, legs in as such the major decades as the theatrical Police that followed. Gazette, attractions In and the and new same inspired magazines, years, sensational numerous such as

mainstream. As urban commercialized recreation expanded, entrepre-

created a mail-order market for pictures of naked women.12


Journal of Women's History


Munsey's, boosted their circulation with pictures of women in tights,

decollete, and swimwear.13

joined As men the commercialization as voyeuristic observers of erotic of images the female proceeded form, and apace, not women just in museums mances to attract and "respectable" and free galleries. admission female Entertainment on customers. "ladies' entrepreneurs night," Some offered and banned worked matinee drinking, pointedly perfor- Home nineteenth images Journal, to sell century used products on, idealized, advertisers marketed artful in specifically images popular of magazines, the to female women. including body From to promote the Ladies late ual with such representations frankly products erotic as soap images. of women and corsets. They would speculated By encourage the 1920s, (correctly, women they appealed it to seems) buy the to that women attrac- sex-

tion seen in the ads.14

tured culture. By such the Even photographs, 1930s, middle-class scantily especially family clad women magazines, of women were such ubiquitous posing as Life, in in swimwear.15 regularly the popular fea- ated the distribution when they sent "pin-ups" to soldiers overseas. By the prostitutes 1940s, the American but as patriots public who generally boosted hailed the morale the "pin-up of soldiers.16 girls" not The as American "pin-ups" Federationist, crossed the boundaries official organ of race of the and American class. By Federation the late 1940s, of Labor, the women, photos of respectively.17 semi-nude white working-class women and African-American "cheesecake," As some entrepreneurs sexual representations experimented entered with the the more popular risqué culture popular as semi-nude specialized for example, women, "girlie emerged magazines," appeared as a popular during with commodity overtly World erotic War during I pictures and flourished the of 1910s, nude after and and world Esquire 1920, during of magazine, borderline the same first acceptability published years that in burlesque to 1933, the attempted higher evolved realm to elevate into of striptease.18 urbane the nether- good cated articles and ads for middle-class consumer products, but unlike success and Esquire, Li. S. inspired Playboy Male. a Duke included rash magazine, of imitation, photographs another including of Playboy women's Cabaret, imitator, breasts. Jaguar, featured Its Jem, immediate Nugget, photos

taste.19 In the postwar era, Playboy followed Esquire's lead with sophisti-

forms that came to be known as "borderline material." "Girlie calendars,"

and Ebony, a popular African-American magazine, regularly included

During World War II, Hollywood studios and popular magazines acceler-

smoking, and soliciting. Advertisers, too, introduced nude and semi-nude


Joanne Meyerowttz


of bare-breasted African-American women aimed at African-American


nographers With bare inched breasts toward available other as taboos. quasi-legitimate In the 1940s entertainment, and after, porno- por- fetishism, and lesbianism, and underground stag films more often phers obscene included searched reemerged scenes for of different as oral "cheesecake" and conventions anal sex. and 21 "borderline in As which imagery to material," present once considered symbols pornogra- of

graphic magazines experimented increasingly with sadism, masochism,

illicit sex.

By the mid-twentieth century, then, the female body as sexual symbol

produced permeated images seems sexual American to representation have popular partially culture. supplanted increased, As prostitution the the commodification commodification declined and of of sexual sexual mass- pornography. produced that acts.22 ranged In sexual the from growing display the most market provided acceptable of sexual a rough cheesecake spectacle, and shifting a new to the code classification most of taboo mass- of popular At virtually sexual every representations. point in this After history, the Civil protesters War, challenged an organized the anti- rise In tion. obscenity the In years 1873 movement, that it triumphed followed, led in by local its Anthony efforts "vice societies" for Comstock, federal worked, antiobscenity captured with national considerable legislation. atten- joined actress, From the attacked rising the beginning chorus the new of outrage. of "leg this business" national As early as movement, of 1869, burlesque, Olive women's Logan, or "The a voices former Nude Woman zations guardians had Question."24 of entered the public the By fray, morals. the positioning end In of 1883, the century, middle-class the Woman's national women Christian women's as maternal Temper- organi- Suppression impurities ance Union included (WCTU) of Impure advertisements took Literature. the lead By when that the it used 1890s, created the the its female Department's Department form, "living for list the of pictures," nude" as well "indecent as more shows highbrow and forms posters," of erotica. and "photographing As part of a national of the literature.25 of social signatures the purity female on The movement, body petitions, women "lower[ed] and the protesters, women distributed the standard it wrote seems, thousands legislation, of believed womanhood, of that pages lobbied, public of detracted] collected anti-vice display from continued Through womanly as footsoldiers, the dignity, early twentieth and patrolling corrupted] century, the borders the middle-class youth of obscenity. of the women land."26 By the reformers 1910s,

public support, to stemthe tide of alleged moral corruption.23


Journal of Women's History


the General Federation of Women's Clubs (GFWC) had replaced the it WCTU popular condemned, as song," the center for "obscene example, of women's literature," "suggestive organized and stories protest. "bathing in magazines," In beauty the 1910s contests." "the and 1920s, vulgar Its their most alleged sustained damage protests, to youth. though, In focused 1929, after on "immoral" years of protest popular against films and and motion including consultation picture the with GFWC, industry. Hollywood, the Prominent Daughters the GFWC middle-class of the came American to women's an Revolution, agreement organizations, with and the the preview Countering films and this compile regulatory lists of movement, recommended a pro-erotica movies.27 stance emerged more protest; sexual slowly. mores nonetheless, changed, This position it increasing is clear is harder that numbers by to the document of early women twentieth than performed the century, organized in and as middle-class attended the new flappers sexual wore entertainments. their enjoyment Working-class of sexual entertainment daughters as and a badge purity of movement, their sophistication. fought for their Young right feminists to sexual broke pleasure, away from and "embraced the social fashions swimwear displayed and dresses on that the revealed stage and increasing screen, portions and bought of arm the and new leg. breaking For these former women, taboos. perhaps, While the thrill they of asserted sexual their daring right derived to participate in part from in entrenched the sexual code entertainment, of the demimonde they seem in which to have the accepted female body the served already as the primary By the 1920s, symbol a of few sexual women pleasure.29 began to engage in vocal defense of sexual representations. sion tured of the erotic tone art. in Most 1921 Margaret when notably, Anderson, she women and her publisher bohemians partner Jane of The protested Heap Little faced Review, the obscenity suppres- cap- Anderson charges for claimed, publishing " excerpts do not know of James the difference Joyce's Ulysses. between "[The] James judges," Joyce and be ity, can." used which obscene Like in they conjunction Anderson, postal condemned, cards most any more pro-erotica from than art, which the intellectuals words they 'science' supported.30 distinguished and 'immorality' On obscen- a more popular appeared level, by mid-century and without the in women's references applause to art, this for pro-erotica mass-produced stance woman wrote, "and I enjoy [Playboy] as much am as a any young man! housewife," I am sure a one lot

Business and Professional Women's Clubs, sent women volunteers to

and romanticized sexual daring."28 Women observed the new sexual

the words 'literature' and 'obscenity' can not

cheesecake and borderline material.

of other women do too!"31


Joanne Meyerowttz


sexual and Estelle By pleasure the mid-twentieth Freedman as a primary have century, labeled source Americans a of "sexualized personal lived happiness, society," in what John for which women D'Emilio valued as art. declined, But the and wars the over moralists sexuality had had lost hardly their biggest ended. battles From the against mid-1930s modernist into homosexuals, the 1960s, massive abortionists, campaigns and against pornographers "sexual pointed psychopaths," to fears prostitutes, of sexual- ings targets media tures of multiplied, had the of attack. undermined exposed women As female these moral entered body. mid-century order, into and heated sex girlie wars public pictures flared debates served and on as as girlie the frequent mean- pic- Women Read Esquire In the early 1940s, in the wake of a wave of local protests, Postmaster rates General to dozens Frank C. of Walker girlie, detective, began to deny and adventure discount (second-class) magazines. Walker postal good. wholly treated For these nonmailable, the magazines most part, but as he he borderline focused did question his material: attack their contribution on he working-class did not declare to the targets, public them Office second-class claimed mailing that Esquire privilege included of Esquire matters itself. of In "obscene, September, lewd, 1943, and the lasciv- Post pin-ups ious character." created by It illustrator objected especially Alberto Vargas.35 to the "Varga girls," the popular hearings mailing It published In October privilege to allow a three-quarter and should Esquire November not to page be "show revoked. 1943, advertisement cause" the Esquire Post as to Office in pulled why the Washington Department the out second-class all the stops. Post, held proclaiming its morale-boosting benefits to U.S. troops overseas. Its law- the obscenity charges, and at the hearings prominent witnesses, including Postmaster ued through General appeals Walker until it upheld reached his the original U.S. Supreme decision. Court The case in 1946 contin- as Hannegan v. Esquire. In a unanimous decision, the court proclaimed that to control the flood of girlie magazines that surged in the 1950s.

the Postmaster General could not exercise "a power of

abhorrent to our traditions."37 The decision narrowed the federal power

well as men.32 Among the middle class, the social purity movement had

ity out of control.33 Protesters voiced explicit fears that sex in the mass

such as Sir, "the poor man's Esquire."34 Eventually, though, he revoked the

yers compiled a seventy-one-page "respondent's memorandum" to refute

H. L. Mencken, testified on the magazine's behalf.36 When the hearings

ended, the Post Office board voted two-to-one in Esquire's favor, but


Journal of Women's History


In the lengthy Post Office hearings, Esquire called in two women City Committee on Mental Hygiene.38 Cook and Weissman, of course, did felt not obscenity find compelled the caused magazine to state him indecent. for "a great the record deal The dour of that embarrassment," "questioning prosecutor for a the woman" but Post Cook Office about and version Weissman of history approached in which the matter pictures without of semi-clad reticence. women Cook represented spelled out a a under Victorian progressive cover method change or from manner," a repressive she stated, past. "where "I was everything brought up was in kept the to [sic] bring most them everything up." In the I post-Victorian think it is a good era, she deal claimed, better and "we a are purer a great way that deal as, she the franker said, pictures "we and, in are question therefore, used to were seeing sex "very isn't those attractive," necessarily things." and impure." For not Cook, at all She an immoral, argued erotic image testified in an art was that gallery, not the obscene images at a beach, in if Esquire it was or in commonly differed lingerie little advertisements. viewed from in what public one In places. sum, might Cook view She saw the pictures in Esquire as mild cheesecake which she regarded as a the pin-ups as a morals child with welfare of no youth. deleterious expert, Both she boys effect.39 claimed and girls, further she suggested, that Esquire admired would not Esquire's upset issue Weissman, Rae of sexuality Weissman, the "Varga and Esquire's read girl" the represented images second in woman Esquire "the type witness, as of aesthetic physical sidestepped symbols. perfection For the them to "the "pleasing ugly few, and if any, to grotesque the women eye." drawings Beautiful are fortunate that images, some enough she of the argued, to possess." artists were produce." She preferable found For Weissman, voluptuous far as to claim "Varga "grotesque" that girls" "most images served women as might would tributes have derive to connoted female a deep beauty. misogyny, sense She of gratifica- went but the so tion Weissman female in body the tried thought not to only escape that as art the the form female prevalent but form also construction as is sex. so beautifully Under that questioning, portrayed portrayed." she the woman" denied that particularly normal stimulating. boys or men Only would the abnormal find "the man, picture with of "extreme a nude from looking at a picture."40

erotic needs," she said, would "derive unusual or extreme satisfaction

positive and widely accepted feature of modern American life. Testifying

witnesses, child welfare activist Edith B. Cook, of the Connecticut State

Welfare Association, and social worker Rae L. Weissman, of the New York

The young people today

are brought up so they knew


Joanne Meyerowttz


Weissman's comments, and Cook's as well, reflect a 1940s variant of

and imagery: the modern pictures women's woman's only corrupted bodies unsqueamish were the lovely, abnormal approach bodily mind. to images the As proliferation to were pornography, not shameful, of erotic or reinforced attractive to the normal modern men sexual and women, code that from distinguished illicit pornography, healthy cheesecake, appealing only On to the the abnormal.41 opposing side, the Post Office called only one woman, feminist Woman's the American Party, Revolution.42 General Federation Steadfast of in Women's her convictions, Clubs, and Wiley Daughters refused of to borderline draw the common material, twentieth-century and pornography. distinctions While she eventually between cheesecake, granted that sexual "some and she imagery. things tied her are She aversion worse found than directly Esquire others," to "degrading her she feminist displayed and politics: depressing a deep distrust to women," of any I have spent my life in trying to build up the dignity of women. I sacrificed so Wiley insisted that images of semi-nude women debased women because suggest the lure of that they sex."43 women implied For used that Wiley, sex women in sex the was "gained public not a realm their legitimate detracted point public by chicanery from activity. the fight and To differently, for equal rights and less because honorably, it implied than that men. women Note that advanced Wiley's themselves argument the of differs the women voyeuristic from depicted contemporary male in Esquire gaze. feminist as As active she antipornography noted subjects more luring than men, positions: a year not as later, she victims saw she wanted capacities women and to less depend and less "more on and personal more on appearance, their mental glamour and spiritual and a cheesecake the woman role Amidst of in the seemed swimwear the "prudish wartime old-fashioned, which Victorian celebration Wiley matriarch."45 and refused of the pin-ups, lawyer to proclaim He for Wiley's presented Esquire "decent," disgust a cast picture and her with he of in then swimming revealed champion that the Annette picture Kellerman. in question At was that a point, thirty-year-old Wiley had photo to grant of


"filthy pictures" of the "French post card type," Weissman denied that

"the average normal individual would be interested in looking." She thus

Anna Kelton Wiley, a longtime Washington, D.C. activist in the National

have beenthirtyyears inthis movement tosecure

men and women

equal rights for


and all of this [material from Esquire]

contrary to the campaign that we women have

much to carry on.


Journal of Women's History


to that claimed, bathing the picture they suits had was on a the decent. different beach She or meaning. at reiterated a pool, She but her responded in argument. magazines with She like the did Esquire, defensive- not object she ness and I of know a feminist I shall be often in every ridiculed: column "I knew tomorrow I was going I am trying to be trapped to be made News Shapely ton Post mocked Annette labeled her her Shocks, the "grim" following Unshocks and lampooned day a Feminist with her an Leader," in article a cartoon.47 and headlined, the Washing- "The Weissman case, cake. and lovely While They their tried imagery, testimony described the women to portray admired the maps witnesses images the an by pictures area as girls were commonly of and in not dispute. Esquire women major accepted, On as as players one well wholesome modern, side, as in by the Cook boys Esquire healthy, cheese- and and men. that diately the They today: pictures avoided that were only the created obvious women by were gender men portrayed asymmetry for heterosexual with that their we male clothes notice pleasure. off imme- and Instead, and with they the cleansed uplifting the qualities images of by health, associating beauty, them and with art. pleasure On the for other all side, vulgarity, sexual Wiley display immorality, attempted was a story to and sully of prostitution. declension, Esquire by For linking not Wiley, progress. it to the pornography, She rise of saw modern erotic low images ties," woman's a form of power the of female power should body she emanate found as harmful threatened from to her all "mental women. by the modern and In Wiley's spiritual emphasis vision, capaci- on a glamour sexual purity and allure. that reinforced But Wiley's a distinction version of between feminism good relied women on concepts and bad. of In this view, sex was a private act and any woman who made a public ments of the Outside testimony came up of the repeatedly, for hearing and against rooms, though, Esquire. probably as other Similar women few women issues addressed and knew similar the the details explo- argu- sion of girlie pictures and girlie magazines in the postwar era.

display of it was indecent, undignified, and unattractive.

a prude. I amnot a prude."46 True to her prediction, the Washington Daily

The Racial Politics of Cheesecake

when The readers battle of over Ebony sexual and representations Negro Digest responded erupted again to photos in the of mid-1940s semi-clad differed as African-American Life, and little never from went cheesecake women. beyond The images the disputed risqué published pictures, pictures in as white some featured magazines, readers in Esquire. noted, such Nonetheless, from 1945 to 1957, Ebony and Negro Digest published sixty-


Joanne Meyerowttz


seven letters commenting on cheesecake or the controversy surrounding overwhelmingly more it. The letters magazines from (over women), published two but to letters one) the letters from while both from the women majority men supported and of men the letters (with cheesecake a from few

women opposed it.48

addressed The women issues of who respectability, wrote letters beauty, to Ebony and morality and Negro in much Digest the often same labeled the pictures "beautiful" and argued that they appeared "in all "offensive "obscene." wrote one woman, "There and was and no the art women in these who poses—just posed, wrote cheap another, sensualism," were

in very bad taste," "disgusting and revolting," and

leading magazines."49 Women protesters complained that the photos were

language that white women did. Black women supporters of cheesecake

"really a disgrace to all women."50 Mrs. J. M. Washington portrayed sexual

representation as a woman's issue:

woman I can see regardless no reason of whatsoever her race, creed in picturing or color a on naked the cover body of of a a

magazine. It shocks me to think of a woman who would permit such

aphototobetaken—suchlittleself-prideshemust have. It certainly

women, isn't we should have and since some most say about of the what supporters goes on of the Ebony cover. are

Like white clubwomen, she concluded with a call for "better moral exam-

ples to our youth."51 images But within African-American the context of women American also racism. argued Since the pros the and early cons years of sexual of the sexuality slave trade, to justify white men the sexual had used exploitation racist stereotypes of black women. of African And "animal" some of objects the most of hard-core titillation pornography for white men.52 presented From nonwhite the end of women the nineteenth as exotic strenuously century, middle-class to counter these African-American racist stereotypes women and to activists publicize had a contrast- worked women were Through the most also were the widely portrayed mid-twentieth sexually circulating as exploited lacking century, magazines, in and beauty the sexually cheesecake by and the stereotyped, Miss dominant in Hollywood America white though, contests movies, culture. they American remained took on a exclusively different women's political equality white. tone, In in this beauty in context, which and supporters opponents the debate wrote over wrote cheesecake of to African- defend

ing image of black women as morally pure.53 At the same time that black

African-American women's morals.


Journal of Women's History


in women," the Support March she for 1947 wrote, cheesecake issue "Why of Ebony. don't was stated they "Black stop most women putting bluntly are women by just Gladys as of good other V. as Brown races other bodies magazines?" another was woman, a sign In this "but of line racial you of progress. are argument, doing "I the the get world representation tired of in girlie general covers of a black great too," women's service wrote If s time our Several supporters of cheesecake wrote to demand pictures of darker- viewers; she als.55 classist asked From standards it for provided this pictures point of democratic beauty. of of view, "a One pretty cheesecake social woman washerwoman," lessons did berated not about objectify "the American not readers just women profession- who racist for are male and so ignorant I applauded glorifies commend the that Ebony's you pulchritude they for can't pictures taking of appreciate his the as fair a lone critical sex the stand in beauty social his in magazines doing message: in the the cover and same "The daily pages." white for papers. Negro man She The black women who opposed cheesecake were less likely to view it immorality symbols of of illicit the white sex. Some culture. called As one on African woman wrote, Americans "Why to copy reject all the the vices loose damaged of black the the sexuality. white cause man?"57 of racial One woman progress For other claimed, by women, confirming "the the flagrant cheesecake white stereotypes appeal pictures to the of sex-obsessed of surfaced Negroes in a as letter morally that inferior." implicitly This distinguished concern with between respectability moral women also cheesecake, depicted were public an embarrassment sexual display to and black the womanhood. "low type female" allegedly "efforts Digest By decided late to reach 1947 to out reader get to "a an protest divorce audience had from had the attracted an 'cheesecake' impact. by The sex girls," editors have noting of frankly Negro that not some clicked." reduction 59 by But mid-decade in Ebony the of pictures the most continued risqué. through The unresolved the 1950s, debate with respectable, demonstrates contested. The in that defenders fact, the that relatively of the cheesecake inclusion new category saw of African-American it as of respectable cheesecake beauty, remained women so counted as racial advancement. In contrast, for the opponents of cheese-

and the "lowtype female" who posed for pictures.58 For the opponents of

and women that don't look colored inside and outside of the colored

by making it aware of the beautiful women in our

conception of beauty embraced something besides the Nordic type."54

skinned women, and one woman also addressed the issue of class when


as democratic lessons in beauty and more likely to see it as damaging

just help[s] build up the impression many people have


Joanne Meyerowttz


can-American cake, semi-nude women images and reflected hindered negatively the struggle on the for racial moral progress. status of Afri-

Sexual Filth or Sexual Fun

By all accounts, the pictures in Ebony, Negro Digest, and even Esquire Playboy not were force surprising, tepid as itself, Playboy's when women then, compared circulation that wrote the to to controversy the skyrocketed praise borderline or condemn over in photography the girlie the 1950s. pictures magazine. in In Playboy. the emerged pages From It its of in is first over issue fifty such in December commentaries 1953 through from women; the end of of these 1959, letters, Playboy around published four- while unequivocal the women stand who on their condemned right to read Playboy and enjoy asserted a magazine their authority for men, to ence. denounce On both girlie sides, magazines, some of even the women if women wrote were with not anger: the intended after reading audi- furious," and a few months later, a woman who denounced Playboy stated, critics "dribble," The feared few "a disgrace," that letters sexual from and images women "trash."62 undermined critics As labeled in earlier the dignity the debates, magazine of women. the women "filth," One woman another thought accused the a woman magazine who showed posed of "no embarrassing respect for womanhood," "all womankind." and women old Respectable themselves wrote who from portrayed have women, Kansas: so as little three "I a "bunch feel respect stewardesses very of depressed for sex themselves machines." implied, to think As as did that to one not pose there eighteen-year- want with are to some their see in Playboy's the Esquire editors hearings, sometimes these women appended critics snide could put-downs expect public to the ridicule: letters, expressing another woman "pity" of for "sour one grapes."64 woman's husband, for example, and accusing from The the women women who who appreciated opposed it. Playboy One woman worked objected to distance to the themselves women critics who attempted to place women "on some sort of pedestal." "I have These old tinguished maids women themselves who supporters get shocked from portrayed "the and popular blush themselves at notion anything as cosmopolitan [of] 'naughty.'" prim, frustrated, and They dis-

nothing but pity," she wrote, "for the female who is a lady at all times."65

fifths lavished praise.60 The women who supported Playboy took an

letters from women protesters, a woman supporter proclaimed, "I'm

"I'm so mad I could scream."61

bodies showing

it is lowering the standards of all the nice girls."63 As

claimed to prefer Playboy to popular literature aimed at women. Playboy,




of one the woman so-called wrote, women's was "a magazines."66 refreshing change from the whipped-cream pap in the their epitome For own some of bodies. of female the Some women sexual of who these allure. admired women Several Playboy, sent such in women pictures the pin-ups expressed of themselves, served pride as "Playmate and a few asked, of the as Month."67 one woman These put it, letter for the writers "great identified honor" of themselves serving as professional again sent in a a few picture months sex of worker, herself later to Evelyn performing comment "Treasure on barechested the Chest" many "wonderful West on a stage; of Los letters" she Angeles, wrote she had the the standards fantasy received to from to which which admirers.68 they they aspired. compared For these themselves, women, the usually Playmates favorably, provided and women Other enjoyed women the who "spice appreciated of life." These Playboy women attempted seemed to cognizant establish of that the bands, Various letters stigma with or still women their forms attached children, supporters of identification to openly and made one sexual references ardent that underscored women, admirer to their of and Playboy religiosity, their they respectability. marked proclaimed, their their hus- it "I'm seems, an ex-PTA hoped to President establish and that a Sunday commodified School sexual teacher."69 pleasure These was women, not for right men and to appreciate prostitutes a magazine only. Avowedly aimed explicitly heterosexual, at men. they As insisted one letter on writer their men; the other supportive letter writers applauded the magazine just as it women was.71 Although adamantly Playboy insisted was that created they too by enjoyed and for it. heterosexual They rejected men, a double these sexual standard innocence. in which They men enjoyed thereby asserted sexual titillation their right while to inclusion women feigned in what they The saw letters as sexual to fun. Playboy illustrate the depth of the division among women women. expression lambasted On of one heterosexual side, the women women pleasure supporters who and opposed feminine read Playboy. the magazine appeal. One Some as woman, a positive of these for make ically example, critics as "very called and unsure a censors woman of herself." of protester themselves She "a drip" continued: give and me diagnosed a "These pain."72 hypocrites her On psycholog- the other who woman." smut side, women that raised These who questions women protested expressed "in Playboy terms dismay of read morality, the at magazine the purity, women as and "irresponsible" who the dignity posed for of

variously as college students, working women, and wives. In one case, a

stated, "I'm strictly a woman, and can prove it, and man, I dig your

magazine the most."70 Only two women requested beefcake photos of


Joanne Meyerowttz


pictures. "No," wrote one woman, "I won't even call that type a woman," another woman's filth, one woman's pride in allure was another woman's

and she then proceeded to label them "bags."73 One woman's fun was

anger at exposure, and each side disparaged the other.74

A National Campaign

As Playboy The letters and to other Playboy girlie were magazines one small piece rose to of undisputed a larger cultural success, conflict. an

avalanche try in sexual of representations protest descended. inspired In the revitalized 1950s, the antiobscenity booming postwar campaigns indus-

in cities and towns across the nation.75 National antiobscenity efforts

with received a circulation two significant of ten boosts million, in late published 1952. In novelist October, Margaret Reader's Culkin Digest,

Banning^ claimed, girlie exposé, magazines "Filth had on circulated the Newsstands." "in barbershops, In the past, saloons Banning and Army Banning's corner posts," drugstore, national but now, with exposé, she all other protested, the forms House they of reading." competed of Representatives' Two "right months down newly at after the well-publicized appointed Select hearings. Committee At the on Current hearings, Pornographic Banning testified Materials that girlie held Women's postwar comic As books. protests a Clubs national In once as the part movement course again of a national came of investigating emerged, to campaign the fore. the The newsstands, against General Federation crime Federation though, and began horror the its of

magazines had "no purpose except pictorial prostitution."76

zine 'stag,' clubwomen announced: and 'confidential' discovered "Amid a all type." different the hue In 1955, genre, and cry the "magazines against Federation's crime of the comics, monthly 'girlie/ another maga- 'male/ empire of prurience is thriving—pornographic magazines." According to

an internal report, clubwomen were "encouraged by the effectiveness of

the campaign against crime comics" and "aroused and indignant over this protest pornography, which was not available on open newsstands. "The borderline great girly magazines."77 problem material. existing More today," specifically, stated one it concerns GFWC exposé, the flood of "is so-called with the because and line material sometimes In this children campaign, corrupted received and teenagers as youth. in direct earlier The had solicitations ones, clubwomen access a recurring to such through were material motif especially the was mail. at that newsstands disturbed With border- an

newest kind of salacious literature." For the most part, the women did not

emphasis on youth, the GFWC dusted off its longstanding maternalist


Journal of Women's History


politics people role as celebrated maternal and portrayed protectors. the sexuality borderline One of as activist children, a mother's described these issue. women what In an she bolstered era saw when as their few the

cultural contest:

purveyors In clubwomen the battle of and for harmful right the minds thinking literature of our women against youth, everywhere. the the mothers, contestants The grandmothers, morality are the of I'M BETTING

our country can depend upon who is the


battle This against maternalist borderline language as a flourished battle to save anew the as women home. In constructed the anxious the business climate of of the pornography" 1950s, the had clubwomen invaded the addressed home and fears undermined that the "big the family.79 wrote: "The In the American GFWCs home magazine, is the Congresswoman target of the pornographic Kathryn Granahan attack. against pornography."80 so they did. In Coral Gables, clubwomen inaugurated a campaign, and the joined American in Florida.81 to form Legion In the Cincinnati, Mothers Auxiliary March representatives "carried Against the campaign Obscenity. from over to The every fifty women's organizations community" protest "began women's lines.82 in In outrage the these [local] and against numerous AFL-CIO borderline other League material local of campaigns, may Women," well have women suggesting crossed presented class that women women line themselves material] But and protesters, the as girls. clubwomen among moral The they guardians young GFWC also saw offered women." girlie noted of the the magazines a young. protofeminist Young "enormous readers as especially circulation argument. asked themselves harmful [of Like border- other to Division, whether conventions" attractive behaving girls."83 made was the Mrs. case "the "immorally, Walter most price strongly: of V. popularity" Magee, immodestly chair or of and "the the with Community typical no conduct regard Affairs for of

tees, evaluate magazines, pressure retailers, and lobby for legislation. And

The American home must also be the center of the counterattack

The GFWC called on local women's clubs to form citizens' commit-

herself, It the is only tragic way to think in which that she a The sweet may pinnacle young be accepted girl of achievement is socially led to is believe to is display repre- that


as a girl who exposes as much of her body as possible,

surrounded by gaping and leering males.


Joanne Meyerowttz


According to Magee, young women had confided in her about the effect wrote, of girlie "is magazines expected to on join their the husbands. parade of "A nudity, young listen wife to and dirty mother," stories and she worried, exploit teen girls her sexual "worry person representations because in imitation they are [of damaged not magazine curvaceous." women's models]." In sense these Even of ways, themselves worse, Magee pre- and shaped In their their attack public on girlie and magazines, private behavior.84 the clubwomen expressed broader postwar fears appeared fears about starkly mass in a media Ladies'Home and its impact Journal on forum moral of order.85 1956, entitled The same "Do women Americans and Commercialize two men, voiced Sex?" a blasting The critique participants of popular in the culture. forum, five The records, zines," women, but who comic also dominated sex books, in movies, and throughout, movie television, magazines. not advertising, only protested They book turned "men's jackets, again maga- jazz and mate flaming-red tures again of of to the images girls Month/ dress in of Bikini with the " and female tons bathing "Marilyn of body; men suits," following Monroe they "a protested, star movies." her in a around," for tight, They example, well-filled, "the did not, 'Play- "pic- it youth seems, to want engage women in sexual to depend acts. Conflating on physical their allure, concerns nor did with they women want D. suffered and Marsh youth, moral of they St. damage Louis focused went from on even teenage imitating further girls cheesecake and who, expressed they pictures.86 repeatedly the ultimate Mrs. argued, fear Ian extent of moral that anarchy: we destroy "we our can own commercialize happiness, [sex] our marriages, and degrade our it homes to the In their protests against cheesecake and borderline material, clubwo- magazine men theless, were individually industry, not the most the and legislatures, powerful in association, combatants; the vice they societies, repeatedly they or did the not asserted courts. control None- their the limited to sexual have display. cultural had some And authority success: on the to local they challenge level, restricted the the clubwomen sales rise of on mass-produced newsstands, and their allies promoted female seem

and even our nation."87

harsher antiobscenity legislation, and persuaded police to enforce the


They consumerism, Cheesecake comprised burgeoning and and borderline reinforced mass material production, a new taxonomy arose and in changing the of confluence sexual sexual display of mores. rising that ways changed that the women ways saw that women themselves. were And seen they in public divided and women perhaps from also one the

another. In fact, the battles over cheesecake and borderline material hint at


Journal of Women's History


not across a recurring disappear racial, division when generational, the among Victorian American and sexual perhaps women, ethos class collapsed. an lines. ideological Through This split division the that mid- did cut twentieth sure in erotic century, representations some women of saw the shameless female body beauty while and sexual others plea- saw The degradation attached climate, During deployment women to openly and of women after attempted of sexual feminine World and women to corruption War negotiate sex scarcely II, appeal the of older division youth. diminished.89 accelerated concepts seems of to while In female have this the deepened. conflicted morality stigma and cake newer and borderline standards of material sexual display. (and the They women disagreed who posed on whether for pictures) cheese- empowered held ent criteria divergent for or what embarrassed views constituted on the them. impact progress On of opposing mass-marketed and dignity sides, for they culture. women, posited and differ- they in feminist In recent battles years, over this ideological pornography. split As has hard reappeared, core pornographic in different films, form, have videos, protest duced entered sexual the and subordination magazines again representation. into have heated of women reached On debates one in a side, wider pornography over antipornography the national meanings constructed audience, of mass-pro- feminists women by and women for speech men. and as On well insist the as other that men. sexual side, These anticensorship images "sex wars" might feminists raged promise in sensual the defend 1980s freedom pleasure and still of to continues, smolder today. in new In these permutation, ongoing to battles, haunt a the long-standing American women's ideological move- rift

m ent.

N otes

This ans Conference, essay was first April presented 1993. For as their a paper advice at the on earlier Organization versions, of I American thank Paul Histori- Boyer, in my graduate colloquium on mass culture. Thanks also to Sarah Heath for

Anne Boylan, Alice Echols, Estelle Freedman, Christina Simmons, and the students

research assistance.

pornography tations, camps: 1 "antiporn" and Dozens "anticensorship" viewpoints, of feminists publications see, demand feminists for generally example, legislation object fall Andrea into to to combat censorship. one Dworkin of certain two opposing For and sexual feminist Catharine represen- political anti- A. MacKinnon, apolis, Minn.: Pornography Organizing and Against Civil Rights: Pornography, ANewDay 1988); for Catharine Women's Equality A. MacKinnon, (Minne- versity FeminismUnmodified: Views Press, on Pornography 1987), part Discourses 3; (New Diana York: E. on H. Life Teachers Russell, and Law ed., College (Cambridge, Making Press, Violence 1993). Mass.: Sexy: Harvard For feminist Feminist Uni-


Joanne Meyerowttz


sorship Censorship anticensorship Task (Vancouver: Force) Statements, Book Douglas Committee, see, for and example, Mclntyre, Caught Looking: Varda 1985); Burstyn, EA. Feminism, GT. ed., (Feminist Pornography Women Anti-Cen- Against and Censorship (New York: Caught Looking, Inc., 1986); Lynne Segal and Mary Mci- Rutgers University Press, 1993); Nadine Strosser, Defending Pornography: Free

ntosh, eds., Sex Exposed: Sexuality and the Pornography Debate (New Brunswick, N.J.:

Speech, Sex, and the Fight for Women's Rights (New York: Scribner, 1994).

2 On the history of pornography, see, for example, H. Montgomery Hyde, A

England History The Other of (New Victorians: Pornography York: A Basic (New Study Books, York: of Sexuality Farrar, 1974)); and Straus, Al Pornography DiLauro and Giroux, and in Mid-Nineteenth-Century 1964); Gerald Steven Rabkin, Marcus, Dirty

Movies: An Illustrated History of the Stag Film, 1915-1970 (NewYork: Chelsea House, Euro-American (Berkeley: University fine arts of California tradition, see, Press, for 1989), example, chapters Kenneth 2 and Clark, 3. On The nudity Nude: in the A York: Painting, Study Viking, in Ideal 1830-1908 1972), Form(NewYork: chapter (Cambridge: 3; Marcia Pantheon, Cambridge Pointon, 1956); University Naked John Authority: Berger, Press, Ways The 1990); Body of Lynda Seeing in Western Nead, (New The Female Nude (New York: Routledge, Chapman, and Hall, 1990). On censorship

1976); Linda Williams, Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the "Frenzy of the Visible"

battles, Censorship see, and for Control example, (Boston: Robert Beacon W. Haney, Press, Comstockery 1960); James in C. America: N. Paul and Patterns Murray of Glencoe, L. Schwartz, 1961); Federal Paul S. Censorship: Boyer, Purity Obscenity in Print: in The the Vice-Society Mail (New Movement York: Free and Press Book of

Lewis, Censorship Literature, in America Obscenity, (New and York: Law Charles (Carbondale, Scribner's Hl.: Sons, Southern 1968); Illinois Felice University Flannery (NewYork: Viking, 1987); Edward De Grazia and Roger K. Newman, Banned Films:

Press, 1976); Walter Kendrick, The Secret Museum: Pornography in Modern Culture

Movies, articles in Censors American and Quarterly the First Amendment (December 1992). (New York: R. R. Bowker, 1982); and the

3 Two popular histories of pin-ups address some of the history of cheesecake

and borderline material. Especially useful is Mark Gabor, The Pin-Up: A Modest

History 1852 to (New Now (Chicago: York: Universe Ridge Books, Press and 1972). Playboy See also Press, Ralph 1974). Stein, The Pin-Up: From

4 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction (NewYork:

Random House, 1978). On the U.S. in the twentieth century, see Christina Sim- Power: mons, "Modern Sexuality Sexuality in History, and ed. the Kathy Myth Peiss of Victorian and Christina Repression," Simmons in (Philadelphia, Passion and

Penn.: Temple University Press, 1989); Estelle B. Freedman, "'Uncontrolled

Desires': The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920-1960," Journal of American

History (June 1987).

5 Gabor, The Pin-Up, 23. According to Webster's Third New International

publicity) usually Dictionary, scantily featuring "cheesecake" clothed." the natural is "photography curves of or shapely photographs female (as legs, in advertisements thighs, or trunk, or

6 According to Webster's Third New International Dictionary, "borderline" is

"not ity); esp: quite verging meeting on or the conforming indecent or to obscene." accepted patterns (as of good taste or moral-


Journal of Women's History


7 In this article, I am less concerned with the images themselves than I am

with the construction of categories. As Andrew Ross writes: "Cultural power does not through the power inhere the to in capacity define the content where to draw of each categories the relational line between of category taste. and On begins around the contrary, and categories ends, it and of is exercised the taste; power it is

to determine what it contains at any one time." Andrew Ross, No Respect: Intellec-

tuals and Popular Culture (New York: Routledge, 1989), 61.

8 On the unstable categories of art and obscenity, see, for example, Abigail

Solomon-Godeau, Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institu-

tions, and Practices (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991), chapter 10;

Carolyn Dean, "Pornography, Literature, and the Redemption of Virility in France,

1880-1930," Différences 5, no. 2 (1993): 271-296.

9 The category of cheesecake illustrates the concept of "contained license"

that stimulation historian and Peter containment." Bailey labels Peter "parasexuality," Bailey, "Parasexuality a "safely sensational and Glamour: pattern The of

Victorian Barmaid as Cultural Prototype," Gender and History (Summer 1990): 149,


10 On flappers, see James McGovern, "The American Woman's Pre-World

War and 1968): City I Freedom 315-333. Pleasures: in On Manners Historical working-class and Notes Morals," "charity on Working-Class Journal girls," of see American Kathy Sexuality, Peiss, History " 1880-1920," 'Charity (September Girls' in Powers Review of Press, Desire: 1983); The Politics Joanne of Meyerowitz, Sexuality, ed. "Sexual Ann Snitowet Geography al. (NewYork: and Gender Monthly Econ-

omy: The Furnished Room Districts of Chicago, 1890-1930," Gender and History

(Autumn 1990): 274-296. On feminist "new women," see Ellen Carol DuBois and

teenth-Century Linda Sexuality, Gordon, ed. Carole Feminist "Seeking S. Sexual Vance Ecstasy Thought," (Boston: on the Routledge Battlefield: in Pleasure and Danger and Kegan Danger: and Paul, Pleasure Exploring 1984); in Female Carroll Nine- York: Smith-Rosenberg, Oxford University Disorderly Press, Conduct: 1985), Visions 245-296; of Gender Leila J. in Rupp, Victorian "Feminism America and (New the Sexual Revolution in the Early Twentieth Century: The Case of Doris Stevens,"

Feminist Studies (Summer 1989): 289-309.

11 WilliamH. Gerdts, The Great American Nude: A History in Art (New York:

Praeger ity and Social Publishers, Control, 1974), 1868-1900 46,78-80,103; (Westport, David Conn.: Pivar, Greenwood Purity Crusade: Press, Sexual 1973), Moral- 237-

238. On obscenity before the nineteenth century, see Hyde, A History of


12 Lois W. Banner, American Beauty (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

(Chapel 1983), 111; HiU: Robert University C. Allen, of North Horrible Carolina Prettiness: Press, Burlesque 1991), 73-76, and American 92-94; Christine Culture Knopf, and Stansell, the 1986), Commercialization City of 174-175; Women: Timothy Sex of and Sex, J. Class Gilfoyle, 1790-1920 in NewYork, City (New of Eros: York: 1789-1860 NewYork W. W. (NewYork: Norton, City, Prostitution, 1992), Alfred 127- A.

128; John D'Emilio and Estelle B. Freedman, Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality

in America (NewYork: Harper and Row, 1988), 130-132; Hyde, AHistory of Pornog-

raphy, 191.


Joanne Meyerowttz


13 On theater, see Allen, Horrible Prettiness; Robert C. Toll, On With the Show:

1976), The First 207-231; Century Banner, of ShowBusiness American Beauty, in America 115-117,120-127,180-187. (NewYork: Oxford University On magazines, Press,

seeFrankLutherMott, AHistoryofAmericanMagazines, (Cambridge, Mass.: Har-

vard University Press, 1938) 2: 325-337, 3: 43-44, 4: 46-47, 152-153, 608-619, 5:

144-153; Gabor, The Pin-Up, 36-44, 54-56. On other commodified forms of sexual flip imagery, Imaging card) American films, such as see cigarette Women: Allen, Horrible Idea cards, and stereoptic Prettiness, Ideals in Cultural "picture 260, 266-271. History stories," See (NewYork: and also mutascope Martha Columbia Banta, (or University Press, 1987), 180,205-206,210. According to Banta, in the late nineteenth

century, women (clothed or not) came to represent desire (sexual or not) in both

high art and On theater, popular see culture. Lewis A. Erenberg, Steppin' Out: NewYork Nightlife and the

Transformation of American Culture, 1890-1930 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, Turn-of-the-Century 1981), 67; Kathy New Peiss, York Cheap (Philadelphia: Amusements: Temple Working University Women Press, and 1986), Leisure 142- in

Stuart sumer 145,148-153. Ewen, Culture Captains On (New advertisements, York: of Consciousness: McGraw see Hill, Mott, Advertising 1976), A History 178-182. and of American the Social Magazines, Roots of the 4: Con- 32;

cheesecake Life photos was first of women published in bathing in November suits. 1936; by the second issue, it included

John Costello, Virtue Under Fire: HowWorld War II Changed Our Social and




Sexual Attitudes (Boston: Little Brown, 1985), 144-155; Robert B. Westbrook, " Î%

Want the Problem a Girl, Just of Political Like the Girl Obligation That Married in World Harry War James': II," American American Women Quarterly and

(December 1990): 587-614. The term "pin-up" was popularized during WWII; see

Gabor, The Pin-Up, 77.

17 The American Federationist did not include photographs until the 1940s.

The first cheesecake photograph was in the August 1945 issue, p. 26. Ebony was

first published in 1945; it included cheesecake pictures from the start.

18 Early magazines provoked occasional prosecution under obscenity laws.

Gabor, The Pin-Up, 76; Theodore Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century

(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956), 338-340.

19 See Gabor, The Pin-Up, 76-77; Kenon Breazeale, "In Spite of Women:

Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer," Signs (Autumn

1994): 1-22.

20 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from

Journalism," Newsweek, Commitment November Journal (Garden of 7,1955, Popular City, N.Y: pp. Culture 68,71. Anchor (Summer On Press, imitators, 1975): 1983), see 151/53-161 42-51; Time, John September / 63, Brady, esp. 24,1956, 158/60; "Nude

p. such 71; as Gabor, Vim and The Physique Pin-Up, 78,109. Pictorial, For provided gay men, analogous the beefcake visual in physique stimulation magazines, (without

full frontal nudity); see One: The Homosexual Viewpoint (December 1957): 21.

21 Peterson, Magazines in the Twentieth Century, 338-340; Di Lauro and Rab-

kin, Dirty Movies, 98,100.

22 On the decline of prostitution, see Gilfoyle, City of Eros, 306-315.


Journal of Women's History


23 For a good general history, see Boyer, Purity in Print.

24 Olive Logan, Apropos of Women and Theatres (New York: Carleton, 1869),

opposed 152-153. public See also displays Allen, Horrible of nudity, Prettiness, but by the 122-127. 1880s they Women's were rights condemning activists Corn- often stock for his overly zealous prosecutions of reformers. For feminist attacks on

January Comstock, 14,1888; see Lucinda Woman's Chandler, Journal, "Un-American May 2,1891, p. Institutions," 138. Woman's Tribune,

25 At the urging of the WCTU, the new National Congress of Mothers also

protested Missions and degrading the Women's "pictures Sabbath and displays," Alliance gave and the their Women's "hearty endorsement" Board of Home to WCTU the WCTU's National efforts. Convention, "Promotion 1896,354-358; of Purity in "Promotion Literature of and Purity Art," in in Literature Minutes and of

Art," in Minutes of WCTU National Convention, 1897, 442-450, at Frances E.

Willard Memorial Library, Evanston, Dl. (also available on microfilm in the "Tem-

perance and Prohibition" collection produced by the Ohio Historical Society). On the ship Conference, Woman's Activism," Anaheim, Form': paper The Calif., presented Woman's 1993; Pivar, at Christian the Purity Organization Temperance Crusade, 182-184, of Union American and 235-238. Pro-Censor- Historians

26 This statement was made in 1899 by the Illinois Federation of Women's

Blackwell, Clubs; Debates, quoted ed. "The Sheila in Moral Mott, Jeffreys Education A History (New of York: of the American Young Routledge Magazines in Relation and Kegan 4: to Sex," 32. Paul, See in 1987), also The Elizabeth Sexuality 388.

27 1914, Resolution 4; 1920, Resolution 36; 1924, Resolution 27; 1925, Resolu-

battle tion Filth 12 on against in Main Resolutions Street," obscene The Notebook, magazines Independent GFWC in the CXV 1920s, Archives, (October see Washington, also 10,1925), Nellie 411-412,428. B. D.C. Miller, On the "Fighting GFWC For the For 1922, summaries Resolution of 18 GFWC in Resolutions activities concerning Notebook, GFWC the regulation Archives, of films Washington, in the 1920s, D.C. News P. wood E. Willis, and 0anuary-February New "Nothing York City, But 1926), the continued Best," 11. General their The women's work Federation at least preview Clubwoman through committees, the 1950s. (May 1949), in See Holly- Mrs. 13;

Garth Raymond Jowett, Moley, Film: The The Hays Democratic Office Art (Indianapolis: (Boston: Little, Bobbs-Merrill, Brown, 1976), 1945), 178-180. 143-145;

28 DuBois and Gordon, "Seeking Ecstasy on the Battlefield," 41. On women

the WCTU's activism in this area, see also Alison M. Parker, " "The Desecration of

GFWCs early condemnation of films, see 1916, Resolution 3; 1918, Resolution 36;

see General Federation News, (December 1923), 3; General Federation News (January-

February 1925), 21; General Federation News (December 1925), 11; General Federation

and the new eroticism see also McGovern, "The American Woman's Pre-World

War Women I Freedom and the in Rise Manners of the and Movies," Morals"; Signs Elizabeth (Spring Ewen, 1980), "Qty Supplement, Lights: Immigrant S45-S65; Geography and Gender Economy"; Nancy F. Cott, The Grounding of Modern Femi-

Peiss, Cheap Amusements, 45-76; Erenberg, Steppin'Out, 60-87; Meyerowitz, "Sexual

nism (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1987), 41-49.

in pleasure. heterosexual In She the requested early women twentieth attending more century, men performances on at stage, least one or created woman "equality for noted of heterosexual opportunity the contradiction male for



Joanne Meyerowttz


emotional the some Goose," popular satisfaction." The beefcake Dial (December Mary images Vida 14,1918), of Clarke, men, such 542,543. "Sauce as movie for By the the star 1920s, Gander Rudolph there and were Sawdust Valentino, at least for contested directed and Ethnicity: at as heterosexual cheesecake. The Construction On women, Valentino, and but De(con)struction beefcake see Gaylyn was Studlar, never of Rudolph "Discourses as widespread Valentino of Gender nor as as Other," Film Criticism (Winter 1989): 18-35; Miriam Hansen, Babel and Babylon:

Spectatorship 1991), part ΙΠ. in American Silent Film (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,

30 See Margaret Anderson, " 'Ulysses' in Court," The Little Review (January-

March 1921): 22. On pro-erotica intellectuals, see Boyer, Purity in Print; Joan Hoff,

"Why Is There No History of Pornography?," in For Adult Users Only: The Dilemma

of University Violent Press, Pornography, 1989), 20-23,27-28. ed. Susan Gubar and Joan Hoff (Bloomington: Indiana

31 Letter from Alice Soriano, Playboy (September 1954): 4.

32 D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 326-343.

33 Freedman, " 'Uncontrolled Desires' "; Allan M. Brandt, No Magic Bullet: A

Social History of Venereal Disease in the United States Since 1880 (New York: Oxford

Making University of Chicago of a Press, Press, Homosexual 1985); 1983); Minority John Rickie D'Emilio, Solinger, in the United Sexual "Extreme States, Politics, 1940-1970 Danger: Sexual Women (Chicago: Communities: Abortionists University The Postwar America, 1945-1960, ed. Joanne Meyerowitz (Philadelphia, Perm.: Temple

University Press, 1994); D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters, 280-284.

34 On local protest, see Courtney Riley Cooper, "This Trash Must Go!," Forum

and Their Clients before Roe v. Wade," in Not June Cleaver: Women and Gender in

Service, (February Post 1940): Office 61-64. Department, On Walker's 1942 campaign, and 1943, see in bound Press Releases, volumes, Information Post Office

Department Library, Post Office Building, L'Enfant Plaza, Washington, D.C; Post June 30, 1942 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1942), 11-13; PM,

Office Department, Annual Report of the Postmaster General for the Fiscal Year Ending

July 16,1943): 5.

35 District Court of the United States for the District of Columbia, Esquire v.

Frank C. Walker, Postmaster General, Transcript of Proceedings Before Post Office Depart-

ment, Civil No. 22722, National Archives, Post Office Department Records, Record

Group 28, 46: 2,1,14.

36 Washington Post, October 5, 1943; Cravath, de Gersdorff, Swaine and

Wood, "Respondent's Memorandum for Use of Board at Hearing," National

reports Archives, on Post the hearings, Office Department see National Records, Archives, Record Post Office Group Department 28, 46: 1. For Records, press

Record Group 28,46:3.

37 "Press Release on Postmaster General Frank C Walker's Decision to

Revoke Second-Class Mailing Privileges," December 31,1943, National Archives,

Post 5,1946; Office Hannegan Department v. Esquire, Records, Inc., Record 327 U.S. Group 151. 28,46:1; New York Times, February


Journal of Women's History


38 Esquire also solicited depositions from prominent academics Mary Ellen

women Chase and would Marjorie not suffer Hope moral Nicholson. damage from The depositions reading Esquire. stated that college-age

39 Esquire v. Frank C Walker, 957,960-961,964,965. « Esquire v. Frank C. Walker, 991,997, 999. « Esquire v. Frank C Walker, 999.

42 Wiley was also active in the Housekeepers' Alliance, Woman's Civic Club,

hygiene, Cook Washington and Wiley Weissman Institute placed held of herself Mental expert squarely Hygiene, status in in the the and female fields Twentieth-Century voluntarist of child welfare camp. Club. and mental While

43 Esquire v. Frank C. Walker, 1689,1686,1688-1689.

44 Quoted in Leila J. Rupp and Verta Taylor, Survival in the Doldrums: The

American Women's Rights Movement, 1945 to the 1960s (Columbus: Ohio State Uni-

versity Press, 1990), 64.

45 On the "prudish Victorian matriarch" stereotype, see Simmons, "Modern

Sexuality and the Myth of Victorian Repression."

4« Esquire v. Frank C. Walker, 1691-1692.

47 Washington Daily News, November 6,1943 (available in National Archives,

Post Office Department Records, Record Group 28,46:3); Washington Post, Novem-

ber 6,1943, IB.

48 These numbers, of course, do not necessarily reflect differences between

women and men. The magazines may well have published letters selectively, and letters the apparent to include. gender Both differences Ebony and may Negro reflect Digest the were magazines' published choices by John about H. Johnson which


49 Letters from Mrs. Eva Young Brown, Ebony (August 1947): 7; Mrs. Julia

Robinson, Ebony (January 1946): 51.

50 Letters fromMary Barrara, Ebony (May 1947): 3; Daphne A. Grigsby, Ebony

(August 1947): 4; Harriet E. Dayson, Ebony (May 1949): 8; Mrs. T. E. Clark, Ebony

(August 1947): 4; Mrs. Loretta Powell, Ebony (December 1954): 10.

51 Letter fromMrs. J. M. Washington, Ebony (August 1950): 6-7.

52 Deborah Gray White, Ar'n't I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South

(New York: W. W Norton, 1985), 29-46; D'Emilio and Freedman, Intimate Matters,


53 Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race

and Sex in America (Toronto: Bantam Books. 1984), 85-89; Hazel V. Carby, "It Jus Be's

Dat (June/July Way Sometime: 1986): 12; The Darlene Sexual Clark Politics Hine, of "Rape Women's and Blues," the Inner Radical Lives America of Black blance," Women Signs in the (Summer Middle West: 1989): Preliminary 912-920; Hazel Thoughts Carby, "Policing on the Culture the Black of Woman's Dissem-

Body in an Urban Context," Critical Inquiry (Summer 1992): 738-755.


Joanne Meyerowttz


54 Letters from Gladys V. Brown, Ebony (March 1947): 6; Esther P. Oliver,

Negro Digest (April 1948): 98.

55 Letter from Miss L. C. Henry, Ebony (February 1947): 50; for other letters

Helen supporting Brown, dark-skinned Ebony (August women, 1947): see 4. letters For responses from Mrs. to Cleoria these women, H. DeLaine see letters and

from 1951): Mrs. 7. Marcella Hunt, Ebony (April 1947): 3 and Bernice Miller, Ebony 0anuary

56 Letter fromHelen L. Beaumont, Ebony (March 1948): 9.

57 Letter fromDaphne A. Grigsby, Ebony (August 1947): 4; see also letter from

Muriel Donnelly, Ebony (December 1945): 51.

58 Letters fromLillian Dowdell, Ebony (August 1947): 6; Dorothy Giles, Ebony

(September 1947): 5.

59 Editorial, Negro Digest (November 1947): 8.

60 I am counting only those letters that made general commentaries on the

magazine, letters from its women pin-ups, that or praised its appeal or condemned to women. specific I do not articles. include the numerous

(November Letters 1956): from 7. Layde Pettio, Playboy (August 1956): 4; "A Virgin," Playboy


62 Letters from"An Executive Secretary," Playboy (December 1954): 3; Mrs. L.

D. Frateschi, Playboy (February 1955): 3; Mrs. N. A. Quasebarth, Playboy (April

1955): 3; Mrs. C. W Potter, Playboy (May 1956): 6.

63 Letters from Mrs. Ruby Carpenter, Playboy (May 1956): 6; Eleanor

Heimbeckner, Playboy (September 1957): 5; Dorothy Chapman, Kaki Ross, and

Shirley Hoffecker, Playboy (October 1957): 4; Debra A. Martin, Playboy (October

1955): 4.

64 Letters fromMrs. N. A. Quasebarth; Mrs. A. B. Mayfield, Playboy (Septem-

ber 1959): 16.

65 Letter from Layde Pettio.

66 Letter fromBetty Gay Swan, Playboy (December 1954): 3; Anne E. LeCroy,

Playboy (June 1957): 7. See also letter from Billie O'Doherty, Playboy (November

1956): 7.

67 Letter fromSusan Counter, Playboy (September 1956): 8.

68 Letters from Evelyn "Treasure Chest" West, Playboy (April 1954): 3; and

(July 1954): 3.

69 Letters fromMrs. Ray Hitch, Playboy (February 1955): 4; Mrs. Katherine E.

Williamson, Playboy (May 1956): 6.

70 Letter from Joni Laiole, Playboy (October 1955): 4. For a lesbian's apprecia-

tion of girlie magazines in the 1950s, see Elizabeth Lapovsky Kennedy and Made-

line (New D. York: Davis, Routledge, Boots of Leather, 1993), 215. Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community


71 For letters requesting beefcake, see letters from Carol B. Montgomery,

Playboy 5. (November 1956): 7; "Name withheld on request," Playboy (March 1959):


Journal of Women's History

72 Letter from Mrs. Ray Hitch.

73 Letters from Mrs. Eva Printz, Playboy (May 1956): 6; Debra A. Martin.

74 The oppositional letters in Playboy do not necessarily indicate a neat

dichotomy of opposing views among women in general. Many women (most of

whomdid not write letters to girlie magazines) no doubt stood somewhere in the

middle, prudish "drips" attempting and whorish to steer "bags" a middle presented course between in the letters the to negative Playboy. referents of

75 See J. Edgar Hoover, "The 'Big Business' of Pornography," General Federa-

tion Clubwoman (October 1959), 16-17, 23-24; Haney, Comstockery in America, 98.

76 Margaret Culkin Banning, "Filth on the Newsstands," Reader's Digest

(October 1952): 115-119. On the House Committee, also known as the Gathings

Commmittee, 2318-2321; quote, see New December see York Publisher's Times, 27,1952, December Weekly, 2436-2437; May 4,1952, 17,1952,2007-2008; January 26. 10,1953,125-127. December For 13,1952, Banning

77 Mrs. Walter V. Magee, "Crime Comics," General Federation Clubwoman

(September 1956): 10; "Morals at Stake on Your Newsstand," General Federation

Women's written Clubwoman report Clubs (October in Archives, Program 1955): Records, Washington, 8; "Objectionable 1956-58, D.C; Youth "The Publications: 'Big Division, Business' The General Problem," of Pornography," Federation 1, type- of campaign, General Federation see James Clubwoman GEbert, A Cycle (May/June of Outrage: 1960): America's 50. On the Reaction national to comic the Juvenile book

Delinquent in the 1950's (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

78 Magee, "Crime Comics," 10.

79 In 1959 and 1960, the General Federation Clubwoman ran a series of articles

entitled "The Kathryn Big Granahan, Business of "The Pornography." Big Business of Pornography," General Federation

Clubwoman see Seth Koven (April and 1960): Sonya 16. Michel, On maternalist "Womanly politics Duties: in Maternalist the early twentieth Politics century, and the

Origins of the Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain, and the United


States, 1880-1920," American Historical Review (October 1990): 1076-1108. Parents' 81 Magazine O. K. Armstrong, (December "How 1957): Coral 76, 78; Gables Mrs. Qeaned Walter V. Up Magee, Its Newsstands," "A Year of

Achievement," General FederationClubwoman(March1958): 22.

82 Cincinnati Enquirer, November 4,1958, A7; see also Cincinnati Post, Feb-

ruary 25, 1958, 1; Cincinnati Post and Times-Star, August 6, 1958, 60. For brief

reports of other local actions, see "Lef s Abolish Pornography," General Federation

Clubwoman (March 1960), 16-17.

To Our Youth," Mrs. Arthur General Crom, Federation "The 'Big Clubwoman Business' (September of Pornography—A 1959): 30. Moral Threat


Clubwoman Mrs. (October Walter 1957): V. Magee, 18. "Our Scandalous Newsstands," General Federation



Joanne Meyerowttz


85 On these fears in the postwar era, see Gilbert, Cycle of Outrage, 77-126,


86 For earlier concerns about the impact of images on young women, see Lea

Jacobs, University 77ie of Wages Wisconsin of Sin: Press, Censorship 1991), and 3-5. the Fallen Woman Film, 1928-1942 (Madison:

87 "Do Americans Commercialize Sex?," Ladies'Home Journal (October 1956):

68, 69,198-204.

88 On women as instigators of local antiobscenity movements, see also Alfred

C. 1953), Kinsey 663. et al., For Sexual reports Behavior of successful in the Human local Female actions, (Philadelphia: see Magee, W. "A B. Saunders, Year of

Achievement"; Marilyn "Let's E. Hegarty, Abolish " Pornography." 'Patriots, Prostitutes, Patriotutes': The Mobilization

tation, and Control Ohio State of Amercian University, Women's forthcoming. Sexuality during World War II," Ph.D. disser-