Doing It With Food: Cooking and the History of Sexuality

Gillian Frank

Romantic dinners for lovers are one of the sweet pleasures of life, and if you don’t initiate one, who will? Remember the thrill of that special dinner before you were married? … A late intimate dinner for two beside a crackling fire, or on the back porch amid balmy breezes will help set the atmosphere.

– Marabel Morgan, The Total Woman Cookbook, 1980

What can we learn about the history of sexuality from the ways that food has been prepared, consumed and represented? Recently, I rediscovered Marabel Morgan’s Total Woman Cookbook (1980) and with it another angle of vision into the histories of sexuality and gender in the 1970s. During that decade, Morgan became the voice of a woman-led, religious-conservative ‘sexual revolution’ in the United States. As Evangelicals assumed unprecedented visibility, Morgan and a cadre of born-again women contributed to the sexualization of American culture as the authors and devotees of best-selling instruction manuals that sought to eroticize the home as a means of saving unhappy marriages. Their discussions of food and their cookbooks mapped women’s overlapping roles as wives, lovers and mothers. When Morgan approvingly told the story of a Southern Baptist woman who “welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron,” she yoked together traditional images of wives as cooks and homemakers with sexual scripts drawn from an increasingly pornographic culture. Morgan’s genius was that she sexualized housewives and domesticated the sexual revolution, channeling it toward conservative ends.

Marabel Morgan, The Total Woman Cookbook. Illustrated by Russell Willeman (Old Tappan, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1980)

Marabel Morgan, The Total Woman Cookbook. Illustrated by Russell Willeman (Old Tappan, NJ: F.H. Revell, 1980)

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Franca Viola says ‘No': Gender violence, consent, and the law in 1960s Italy

Niamh Cullen 


Franca Viola c. 1966 (Enciclopedia Delle Donna)

On 8 March 2014, a 66-year-old Sicilian woman was awarded the title of Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano. He bestowed the highest honour of the Italian Republic upon Franca Viola in a public ceremony to mark International Women’s Day, honouring her role in a legal case that had  shocked the nation almost 50 years earlier in 1966. The case of Viola’s abduction and rape was a watershed in improving the status of women in Italian society largely due to the example set by Viola and her family. As part of my research on the changing customs of marriage in post-war Italy, I have explored the extensive media coverage of this well-known case, paying particular attention to what its coverage reveals about changing understandings of gender, sexuality and emotions, as well as national and regional identities. Continue reading

Reading Silences in Histories of Religion and Sexuality

Philippa Koch

How do we, as scholars of religion, interrogate the silences in our sources? And what do silences in religious texts reveal about sexuality, sickness and race? This was the framing question of the panel “Silences in Protestant Autobiography: Exploring Sickness, Sexuality, and Race in American Religion,” which I organized for the winter meeting of the American Society of Church History/American Historical Association in New York City in early January. The panelists were Seth PerryEva PayneVernon Mitchell, and myself, and we received a formal response by Catherine Brekus.

St Peter the Martyr Enjoins Silence, by Fra Angelico (Florence, San Marco Convent)

St Peter the Martyr Enjoins Silence, by Fra Angelico (Florence, San Marco Convent)

Silence has long been revered as a contemplative practice within Christianity, but it is a reverence variously challenged by–or held in balance with–written and oral forms of spiritual expression and reflection, including prayer, preaching, music, and writing. The panel sparked conversation about how authors could be silenced by physical pain, generic conventions, religious norms, and imagined audiences. We discussed the significance of writing as a Protestant religious practice, and we explored the way our diverse sources both revealed and concealed their authors’ autobiographies.

A critical question, however, remained: “Is it possible,” Brekus asked, “to interpret absence rather than presence?” We must be careful not to create stories for our subjects, stories based on our own presumptions, knowledge, and bias. If we proceed with caution, however, interpreting the silences in our sources can be a starting point for thinking about our subjects and their contexts, for considering how historical authors lived in the world and how they interacted with and were affected by their neighbors, prevailing social norms, and religious beliefs.

As one audience member, Paul Erickson of the American Antiquarian Society, observed: silence is both a noun and a verb. Our sources could have carefully chosen to leave silence (n.) in their writings; silence (n.) could also have been an impending or threatening force that our subjects wrote against. But our sources could also have been silenced (v.) by the expectations of their audiences. The two papers on sexuality suggest that considering silence—in both the noun and verb sense—offers a fruitful approach to studying religion and sexuality.

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Beyond penetration: rethinking the murder of Edward II

Kit Heyam

On 23 September 1327, the young king Edward III received word that his father had died. The former Edward II, who had been coerced into abdication in January of that year, had been imprisoned in Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire, at the time of his death. While official reports stated that he had died of natural causes, rumours of foul play quickly began to spread. The Lanercost Chronicle, probably composed contemporaneously, asserts cautiously that, “The deposed king died soon after, either by a natural death or by the violence of others”. It didn’t take long for chronicle accounts of Edward’s death to become both more detailed and more sensational. The story we know today, of Edward’s gruesome murder by anal penetration with a red-hot spit (the word “poker” isn’t used in any medieval or early modern text) originates in the “long version” of the Anglo-Norman Brut, composed shortly after 1333. By the sixteenth century this had become the historiographical consensus.

Edward II tomb

Detail of the tomb of Edward II at Gloucester Cathedral (Photo: K. Harvey)

Today, it’s frequently assumed that this story originated as a symbolic punishment for Edward II’s perceived sexual behaviour in life. As Katherine Harvey explored in a recent NOTCHES post, Edward’s close relationships with his male favourites – first Piers Gaveston, then the two Hugh Despensers – were the subject of anxiety during his lifetime and further condemnatory speculation after his death. Chroniclers began to associate Edward’s reign with transgressive sexual behaviour or “lechery”, while hinting that this resulted from his closeness to his favourites; by the sixteenth century, a consensus was emerging that those relationships were both romantic and sexual. So it’s easy to understand why the “red hot spit” story has been interpreted as retribution for Edward’s participation in anal sex with other men. But was this sexually mimetic aspect the sole reason behind the creation of the story?

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A Sexologist and his two Archives: Erwin J. Haeberle

Interviewed by Heike Bauer and Jana Funke

Erwin J. Haeberle is the founder of two archives – the “Haeberle-Hirschfeld-Archive” and the “Archive for Sexology” – which between them constitute one of the most significant collections of sexological work and related materials available.

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Erwin Haeberle (Photo: Reto Klar)

Initially a literary scholar in the 1960s, Haeberle’s discovery of the existence of “sexual science” led him on an intellectual and archival journey that would take him from Germany to the U.S. (and back again). Via the universities of Heidelberg, Cornell, Yale and Hawai’i, he came to the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco where he wrote The Sex Atlas (1978), a textbook aimed at students of sexuality, which was translated into German, Dutch, and Turkish. He also curated an exhibition on the birth of sexology (1908-1933), which was first shown at the World Congress of Sexology in Washington, D.C. in 1983. During the 1980s Haeberle dedicated himself to AIDS scholarship and activism at universities in San Francisco, Kiel (Germany) and Geneva. He worked as an advisor to the German government before taking up a post at the AIDS Center at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin in 1994. It was here that he built up both the print and electronic archives of sexology. Haeberle would donate the print archive to Humboldt University in Berlin where it is now accessible via the university’s central library as the “Haeberle-Hirschfeld-Archive”. The privately financed electronic archive, still called “Archive for Sexology”, is open access and has been maintained by Haeberle himself since his retirement in 2001.

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