Beauvoir, Kinsey, and Mid-Century Sex

in French Politics, Culture & Society

This essay considers the near simultaneity of The Second Sex and Alfred C. Kinsey's reports on sexual behavior. It shows how reviewers in both France and the United States paired the studies; it asks how that pairing shaped the reception of The Second Sex; and it situates the studies in their larger historical context—a moment in which sexuality commanded new and much broader attention. An ever-widening number of disciplines, institutions, sectors of mass culture, and representatives of an expanding consumer economy (from studies of the authoritarian personality or juvenile delinquency to advertising) insisted that sexuality was key to their concerns and enterprises. The ways in which sexuality might be understood multiplied—to the point where an allencompassing notion of “sex” collapsed, giving way, eventually, to a plurality of terms: sexuality, sex roles, and gender.

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