This project will outline women’s liberation struggles from the 1870’s to the late 1960’s specifically touching on women’s issues during these years regarding sexuality. The exhibition will highlight various women’s liberation movements and how women’s behavior changed over time as a result of feminist movements and the emergence of new eras. My project will also highlight the fight for increased acceptance of birth control over the years by various women’s rights activists. This exhibition will document the various attempts for women to gain salvation in their lives and the struggles that came along with the desire for freedom and equality at a time when the fight seemed intractable.
In the nineteenth century, women’s freedom was completely hindered in both their roles in society and their sexual freedoms. Because the idea that women were afraid of sex during the Victorian era has been disproven, it is evident that women were suppressed of their sexual desires (Cocks 2006). During the late 1800’s, women were known only to engage in sexual activities for the purpose of becoming pregnant and sexual passion was only for men, prostitutes, and those of the lower class (Degler 1974). The exhibition will touch on the gilded age of the 1870’s in which women were subject to unequal scrutiny and sexual restrictions and then will transition into the progressive era in which women’s rights activists made an attempt to reform certain restrictions on aspects of women’s lives in terms of work, voting, and sexuality. Specifically, the exhibition will focus on how women were fighting for the right to control their own bodies with the desire for the implementation of birth control which was specifically fought for by women’s rights activist Margaret Sanger. As the progressive era continued, The Birth Control Movement took flight in 1914. Sanger became a strong advocate by fighting for women’s needed sexual pleasures with the belief that it was only birth control that could give women true emancipation (Johnson 2017, 174). She became a leading figure when she opened the first birth control clinic in New York in October of 1916 which was a massive accomplishment in the fight for birth control (Bolt 1993, 252).
The project then focuses on the jazz age of the 1920’s and 1930’s, specifically beginning with the era of the Harlem Renaissance which was an artistic movement that took place in Harlem New York and increased the normalcy of sexual topics. Writers, poets, and playwrights began to write songs about themes relating to sexuality which opened up the world to topics that had been considered taboo in the past. During this time, the hollywood and media industry began to make a lot of money due to the increased popularity of pornographic and sex hygiene films (Stevens 1989). The media had a strong influence in how women were portrayed during this time period beginning with the image of “The Flapper” which was presented in various advertisements and created a new look for women that had not been seen before. The image signified “a new sexual and spatial freedom of the young [women] (Adams & Keene & McKay 2009, 115).
At the end of World War II, women were encouraged to go back to the domestic lifestyle of being a housewife during the 1950’s after soldiers had returned from war and needed their jobs back. Advertisements and television shows encouraged the notion of a white middle class housewife. This idea of women belonging in the household was a major setback in women’s liberation and received immense backlash by various feminine leaders which put pressure on president John F. Kennedy to enact the equal opportunity commission. There was also progress made in the birth control movement in which Margaret Sanger underwrote the research for the birth control pill which sparked a turning point in the world of contraception and sexuality for women (Johnson 2017, 179).
The exhibition ends with the women’s liberation movement and a presence of second wave feminism which took flight in the 1960’s and went into the 1980’s. During this time, women voiced their desire for change and for equality through protests such as the Miss America march and other equal rights demonstrations. While women’s sexuality was increasingly accepted at this time, women were also fighting against sexism and being viewed as sexual objects.