Tag Archives: Sexuality

Elizabeth Abbott – The History of Celibacy (1999)

51W7SE0QGHLIn today’s world where we spend a majority of our time being exposed to sex whether through popular culture, advertising, or online dating apps, it’s easy to think of celibacy as something restricted to the past or the very religious. In her book however, Abbott traces the fascinating history of celibacy from biblical times through to the present day looking at the way that abstaining from sex has been used to both control and empower people.

She follows a rather traditional trajectory, looking at celibacy from the earliest days of human memory through its embracing by Christianity up to the present day. The first half of the book was a bit tedious for me, but only because I never found myself that interested in early modernity. For me the most interesting discussions were surrounding the 19th century modes of respectability for both men and women. Women were supposed to be chaste, but men also had to embody “masculine Christianity” balancing masculine impulses with Victorian respectability. She also discusses the 19th century movements in America started by Sylvester Graham and John Kellogg who used food to try and control (and diminish) libido.

She definitely spends more time exploratory chastity from a feminine perspective which is understandable given the way that history has played out, but I would have loved a bit more of a discussion on the masculine dimensions. After seeing Spotlight I was looking for more of a discussion of clerical celibacy, which took up only a small portion of the overall work.

The history of celibacy is a broad and very dense topic to attempt to explore in a single book. Each chapter of Abbot’s could have been a volume of work unto itself. This is a good overview and jumping off point for those looking to learn more about celibacy and the way it has been prevalent through history.

Advertisements

Gelnn C. Altschuler – All Shook Up (2003)

AllShookUpLooking at how Rock ‘N Roll changed the world, Glenn C. Altschuler, in his book, focuses exclusively on the 1950s, the decade in which he deems Rock N’ Roll music was born. I think that he is correct in this assessment, although I did have some issues with his narrow view.

This is a relatively compact read. Each chapter tackles a different social issue including race, sexuality, and the generational gap. He writes that Rock ‘N Roll entered directly into Cold War controversies ongoing at the time and appealed to the new generation of baby boomers growing up in America. I enjoyed his discussions of various musical personalities including Elvis and Perry Como, to inspirational artists like Fats Domino and Willie Mae Thornton. Even though Altschuler talks about how Rock ‘N Roll was both a form of sexual expression and sexual control, he doesn’t explicitly tackle the nuances of gender. How Rock ‘N Roll was a heavily male dominated sphere and women could only enter into it by playing virginal maids, a la Diana Ross and the Supremes. He briefly mentions the Ronettes, but says nothing about the backlash that occurred over the lyrics to “Be My Baby”

I do think that the 1950s may have been the most important decade for Rock ‘N Roll, but I also wish that Altschuler had extended his range past the 1950s and into the 60s, 70s, and beyond. Even though the Rock ‘N Roll’s formative years may have ended, it certainly did not and continued, as it continues today, to be a vehicle for protest and social change.

Tom Robbins – Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)

evencowgirlsgetthebluesProbably the most absurd book I’ve read in a while, which speaks volumes about the time that it was written (1976).

The novel follows the life of Sissy Hankshaw, a white trash woman born with enormously large thumbs who considers her mutation to be a gift as it aids with her hitchhiking, her preferred mode of travel. Living as a hitchhiker, Sissy soon becomes a model for The Countess, a male homosexual tycoon of feminine hygiene products. The Countess also owns a ranch, operated by sexually open and promiscuous cowgirls. Through her travels Sissy meets the cowgirls and many other interesting characters including “The Chink,” an escapee from a Japanese internment camp who becomes hailed as a hermetic mystic. Through her travels Sissy explores her own sexuality through her interactions with various characters.

This is definitely a “hippie” novel exploring themes such as free love, drug use, political rebellion, animal rights, feminism, and religion, in a strange yet wonderful way. The chapters are short and are often filled with philosophical diatribes and short quips in which Robbins inserts himself as a character. It’s not really the type of book that I normally enjoy reading, but I had a good time. The movie was considered to be an overwhelming failure, but I think I’d still like to watch it, the trailer looks just as insane as the book was to read.