Policing the Crisis: Histories of Sex Panics in the United States

Fall 2004

AC 19.05 Policing the Crisis: Histories of Sex Panics in the United States

The moral panic crystallises widespread fears and anxieties, and often deals with them not by seeking the real causes of the problems and conditions which they demonstrate but by displacing them on to ‘Folk Devils’ in an identified social group (often the ‘immoral’ or ‘degenerate’). Sexuality has had a peculiar centrality in such panics, and sexual ‘deviants’ have been omnipresent scapegoats.

— Jeffrey Weeks

His sexual life, for example, was entirely regulated by the two words sexcrime (sexual immorality) and goodsex (chastity). Sexcrime covered all sexual misdeeds whatever. It covered fornication, adultery, homosexuality and other perversions and in addition, normal intercourse practiced for its own sake. There was no need to enumerate them separately since they were all equally culpable and in principle, all punishable by death….He knew what was meant by goodsex – that is to say normal intercourse between man and wife for the sole purpose of begetting children and without physical pleasure on the part of the woman; all else was sexcrime. — George Orwell, 1984

If we do not know our own history, we are doomed to live it as though it were our private fate.

— Hanna Arendt

Gill Frank Gill_Frank@brown.edu

Meeting times: Monday and Wednesday: 8:30- 10 AM

Location: TBA

Office hours: Wednesday 10:15-11:30 a.m. or by appointment

Course Overview:

Why is it important for Americans to understand the history of sexuality and sex panics? At various times during the past 150 years, portions of United States society have been gripped by widespread panics about the sexuality, whether real or imagined, of some of its members. During these sex panics, a community understands itself to be in crisis and demands drastic intervention in the form of regulation and policing. Powerful fears of sexuality have led to violent interventions, restrictive laws, and other effects that have themselves played a key role in organizing American politics and social practices. Equally significant is the fact that the sex panic has enabled the ongoing definition of normal and abnormal sexualities.

But how did popular fears about adolescent masturbation mobilize large portions of the population to action? Why were prostitutes the source of social outrage and government intervention? What was so harmful about pornography? Why was it dangerous for children to know about sex? Why were teenagers sources of cultural anxiety? In short, why do certain groups get constructed as social problems and why?

As the questions above indicate, this course operates under the premise that sex panics, rather than being irrational and incoherent affairs, are historically intelligible, socially motivated and highly scripted. In this course, we will focus on two periods: the Victorian and post-WWII eras. In each period, we will pay particular attention to how sexual deviance and victimhood have been defined and experienced and how the changing notions of deviance and victimhood consistently have mobilized large portions of the population to sanction extreme actions, thus shaping what is socially permissible and impermissible. We will also see how sexuality has become linked to our identities and how sexuality has come to be a site of intense cultural struggles.

In covering these topics, we will explore the centrality of sexuality to American history as a whole. By examining the moral and sexual crises of the past, we will attempt to come to terms with present and future ‘crises’ around sexuality.


This course has four specific aims:

· To introduce you to interdisciplinary approaches to studying sexual histories and cultures. How? By examining a range of relevant primary sources including films, medical documents and memoirs.

· To introduce you to key theoretical, historiographic and political issues surrounding the histories of sexuality and moral panics. How? By reading key debates, theories and positions in this field.

· To encourage you to think deeply, critically, and coherently about the central roles of sexuality have in shaping American culture, social identities and practices and laws. How? By having an ongoing discussion about how sexuality has transformed America in the past and in the present.

· To help you identify, analyse and respond to contemporary moral and sexual panics in a culturally sensitive, politically engaged and historically informed manner. How? Through class discussions, written assignments and course readings.


On completion of this course, students should be able to:

· Demonstrate an understanding of the central tenets of social constructionism and how these apply to sexuality

· Understand and explain the centrality of the history of sexuality to U.S. political, social, and cultural institutions and histories

· Critically read and analyse multiple kinds of documents and texts

· Apply historically informed perspectives to engage contemporary crises and panics around sexuality

Course Requirements:

No perquisites are required to take this class. Class will be conducted as an ongoing discussion. Students are expected to carefully prepare for class and to attend and participate in seminar.

The class will have four assignments: Two short writing assignment, one analytical essay and one final exam. Each assignment is intended to demonstrate your ability to master key course concepts or analyze secondary sources in the context of the themes discussed in our readings and discussions.

The grading breaks down as follows:

· Gender Diary 10%

· Writing Assignment (2-3 pages): 15%

· Essay 1 (5 pages): 20%

· Take home exam (10 pages): 40%

· In class participation / attendance: 15%

Textbooks available for purchase at Brown Bookstore:

Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics, 3rd Edition

Course kits are available for purchase at Allegra (Corner of Waterman and Thayer Street)

Unit 1: 19th Century Sex Panics

Week 1. Introductions

Wednesday September 8:

Introductions: What is a moral panic? What is the history of sexuality? What is a sex panic?

Week 2. What is sexuality? What is a sex panic?

Monday September 13:

Erich Goode and Nachman Ben-Yehuda, “Moral Panics: Culture, Politics and Social Construction.” WEBCT
Vance, Carole S. “Social Construction Theory: Problems in the History of Sexuality.” Course Kit

Wednesday September 15:

· Robert A. Padgug, “Sexual Matters: On Conceptualizing Sexuality in History.” Course Kit.

· David Halperin, “Is There a History of Sexuality?” Course Kit

Week 3: Secret Vices: The Crusade Against Masturbation

Monday September 20:

· Ellen Bayuk Rosenman, “Body Doubles: The Spermatorrhea Panic.” WEBCT

Wednesday September 22:

Hoag Levins. “America’s Assault on the Solitary Vice” from American Sex Machines Course Kit
Documents: The Secret Vice Course Kit

Writing Assignment #1 Due Friday September 24!

Week 4: Public Perils: Anti-Prostitution Campaigns

Monday September 27:

· Document: W. T. Stead. “Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” Course Kit

· Judith Walkowitz, “The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon” City of Dreadful Delight. Course Kit

Wednesday September 29:

· Judith Walkowitz, “‘The Maiden Tribute’: Cultural Consequences” from City of Dreadful Delight. Course Kit

Week 5. Public Perils and Prostitution

Monday October 4:

Mary Douglas. Chapters 9 and 10 from Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concepts of Pollution and Taboo. Course Kit

Wednesday October 6:

Mary Odem, “‘White Slaves’ and ‘Vicious Men’” from Delinquent Daughters Course Kit

Week 6. Race Panic / Sex Panic: Resisting Judge Lynch

Monday October 11:

· No Class: Columbus Day / Canadian Thanksgiving

Wednesday October 13:

· James C. Scott, “Behind the Official Story,” “Making Social Space for a Dissident Subculture” from Domination and the Arts of Resistance Course Kit

Week 7. Race Panic / Sex Panic: Gender, Race and Sexuality

Monday October 18:

· Ida B. Wells “Lynch Law in All Its Phases” Course Kit

· Gail Bederman, “‘Civilization,’ the Decline of Middle-Class Manliness, and Ida B. Wells’s Antilynching Campaign, 1892-1894” Course Kit

Wednesday October 20:

Nancy MacLean “The Leo Frank Case Reconsidered: Gender and Sexual Politics in the Making of Radical Populism” WEBCT

Essay #1 Due Friday October 22

Unit 2: Post-WWII Panics

Week 8. Folk Devils and Moral Panics

Monday October 25:

· Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics Chapters 1 & 2

Wednesday October 27:

· Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics Chapters 1 & 2

Week 9. Perilous Popular Culture

Monday November 1:

· Benedict Anderson, “Introduction” & “Cultural Roots” from Imagined Communities Course Kit

· Stanley Cohen, Folk Devils and Moral Panics Chapter 4 & 6

Wednesday November 3:

· Andrea Friedman, “Sadists and Sissies: Anti-Pornography Campaigns in Cold War America” Course Kit

Week 10. Unspeakable Crimes: Child Molesters and Sexual Psychopaths

Monday November 8:

· Philip Jenkins, “Creating Facts” Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America Course Kit

Wednesday November 10:

· Estelle Freedman, “‘Uncontrolled Desires’ The Response to the Sexual Psychopath, 1920 – 1960” WEBCT

Philip Jenkins, “The Age of the Sex Psychopath, 1935-1957” & “A Cycle of Panic” Moral Panic: Changing Concepts of the Child Molester in Modern America Course Kit

Week 11: Sexual Psychopaths, Communists and Queers

Monday November 15:

Amanda Littauer, “The B-Girl Evil: Bureaucracy, Sexuality, and the Menace of Barroom Vice in Postwar California” WEBCT

Wednesday November 17:

· John D’Emilio, “The Homosexual Menace: The Politics of Sexuality in Cold War America” Course Kit

Essay #2 Due Friday November 19!

Week 12. A Crisis of Representation: The Politics of AIDS

Monday November 22:

· John Greyson, Zero Patience Available at the Science Library.

Wednesday November 24:

· Robert Padgug, “Gay Villain, Gay Hero: Homosexuality and the Social Construction of AIDS” Course Kit

· Paula Treichler, “AIDS, Homophobia, and Biomedical Discourse: An Epidemic of Signification” Course Kit

Week 13. Dangerous Images: The Porn Wars

Monday November 29

Andrea Dworkin, “Men Possessing Women” Course Kit
Gayle Rubin, “Misguided, Dangerous and Wrong: An Analysis of Anti-Pornography Politics” Course Kit

Wednesday December 1:

Review and Final Thoughts

Final Exam Due Friday December 17

If you have appropriate syllabi, please contact CLGH chair Karen Krahulik at Karen_Krahulik@brown.edu.