Reumann, Miriam G. 1966-
Reumann, Miriam G. 1966-
Born November 29, 1966.
Brown University, Providence, RI, visiting scholar; University of Rhode Island, Providence, instructor in history.
American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 2005.
Miriam G. Reumann is a historian and the author of American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports, an examination of sexuality over approximately fifteen years, from the end of World War II until 1960. This is a study of postwar sexuality and how perceptions of men, women, normal sexuality, and "abnormal" sexuality were perceived. Reumann uses the Kinsey Reports as a starting point, beginning with Sexual Behavior in the Human Male (1948), the first volume, which set off a wave of sexual debate and studies. The masculinity of American males came under the microscope with Kinsey's findings that showed that as many as eighty percent had had a homosexual experience, which could have been a single incident or a lifetime relationship. Many males were sexually ignorant, and changing women's roles were often threatening.
As Reumann points out, the findings were as much about "national character" as they were about what men did with their bodies. In reviewing the volume in the Journal of Social History, Lisa Z. Sigel noted that the issues raised by the Kinsey Reports "had a great deal to do with gender roles, public life, national culture, family fissures, and the shifting economy and only something to do with the individual man. However, once discussed and debated in the public realm, the new loading of cultural meanings onto sexual problems no doubt affected the individual man even as he faced issues such as homosexuality, impotence, or sexual brutality in private." Sigel wrote that Reumann "makes it easy to see how these public debates could affect the individual at the level of meaning and behavior."
With Sexual Behavior of the Human Female (1953), the truth of women's sexuality became a cause of "performance anxiety" for some men. Kinsey also exposed the high percentage of infidelity at a time when divorce rates were climbing. The general public enthusiastically studied the reports, since little information about sex had been available before that time, and almost nothing was said about sex acts. By the time Kinsey's third volume, Pregnancy, Birth and Abortion (1958), was published, more materials were available, and enthusiasm for his dry, statistical writing had declined.
Reumann draws on a broad array of materials, including writings in women's magazines and medical, social science, and scientific texts and journals. She studies her subject in film and relies on expert opinions and advice columnists as well as books of the time.
Historian reviewer Jessica Weiss wrote: "A must-read for scholars of the recent United States, this book also offers lay readers an explanation for the stark contrast between the heated political crisis in response to one president's sexual dishonesty and the quiescent response to more recent forms of White House deception, and the stakes behind the current debate over marriage equality."
Sherry J. Katz, who reviewed the book in the Journal of the History of Sexuality, found the most compelling and interesting sections to be "those that integrated the voices of writers who represented ‘minority’ groups, social movements, and liberal politics. In those discussions Reumann fleshed out the connections between politics and cultural discourse and made her sources come alive. For example, in chapter five writings by members of the emerging homophile community play a central role in the debate over homosexuality by expanding coverage of homosexual life, debunking negative myths and theories, criticizing Americans for their fear and repression, and linking respect for homosexuals (as sexual minorities) to American democracy, freedom, and the nation's standing in the cold war world." Katz concluded by noting that Reumann "demonstrates how unstable and contested sexual categories and ideologies were in this period. Finally, she provides compelling evidence for how integral the subject of sexuality was (and is) to debates about national identity, consumer culture, and modern life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Choice, December, 2005, J.A. Davis, review of American Sexual Character: Sex, Gender, and National Identity in the Kinsey Reports, p. 745.
Contemporary Sociology, January, 2006, Jeffrey Escoffier, review of American Sexual Character, p. 38.
Historian, fall, 2006, Jessica Weiss, review of American Sexual Character, p. 599.
Journal of Social History, winter, 2006, Lisa Z. Sigel, review of American Sexual Character, p. 491.
Journal of the History of Sexuality, May, 2006, Sherry J. Katz, review of American Sexual Character, p. 338.
Times Literary Supplement, July 8, 2005, Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, review of American Sexual Character, p. 24.