History 104: Western Civilization since 1648

Lecture: Cold War and Social Revolution

Cold War

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Cold War Politics || Post-War Theatre || Post-War Fashion || Cold War Literature || Gender and Sexuality
Politics Fashion Theatre Sexuality and Gender Literature

Social Revolution

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1960s & 70s Politics || Sexual Revolution || Social Revolution Fashion || Rock 'n' Roll || Postmodernism

fashion sexual revolution politics rock 'n' roll postmodernism


Cold War

Theme from TV series "Peter Gunn", by Henry Mancini (1958) Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist),1950

Cold War Politics

You may recall that, during the war, Stalin of the Soviet Union had insisted on the Allies opening a Western Front. Britain and the U.S. had delayed this, mostly because Churchill of Britain had insisted that focusing on the Mediterranean operations (North Africa, Italy) would be of more use in helping the Soviets. Europe 1945 map  showing divided GermanyFranklin D. Roosevelt, president of the U.S., had bowed to Churchill's wishes. But both knew this was about more than wartime strategy. It was also about communism. Stalin claimed that Britain and the U.S. were refusing him a second front so that the Nazi fascists and the Soviet communists would kill each other off. And indeed, Churchill's focus on the south was part of his strategy to restrict Stalin by invading Eastern Europe up from the south.

Had Churchill's strategy won out, Allies would have invaded up through the Balkans, occupying Eastern Europe and preventing the USSR from doing so. But FDR decided, in Operation Overlord, to answer Stalin's demand, in an effort to prove that the capitalists were not trying to kill off the Russians, and in hopes that the USSR would be a full participant in the new United Nations. Only Soviet confidence in the intentions of her allies, FDR believed, would prevent future war. So in 1944, U.S. and British troops invaded northern France, and Germany was occupied in the east by the Soviets and in the west by Britain, the U.S., and France.

After the U.S. used atomic weapons against Japan, Stalin felt even more threatened and was determined to hold onto eastern Europe as a "buffer zone" against western capitalist aggression. Germany had been partitioned into British, American, French, and Soviet sectors (as had Berlin), but the map above shows East Germany as fully within the Soviet "bloc", along with other nations where the local communist parties had taken over the government, almost all with Soviet assistance. Churchill called this line, the western border of the communist bloc, the "Iron Curtain".

book Workbook document: Winston Churchill: The Iron Curtain

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Berlin was the hole in that curtain. After the war, Europe went into economic depression. In nations everywhere, including the west, communists and socialists took power. The American solution to this, and communist aggression in Eastern Europe, was the Marshall Plan. In 1947, the U.S. offered billions to Europe in economic recovery cash. Western European nations accepted the money, but Eastern bloc nations declined after Stalin explained that the U.S. was trying to buy them with money when it couldn't earn them with ideology. The result was that money flooded into western Europe, but not eastern Europe, which had only the Soviet Union as a trade partner. In Berlin, it was possible for someone leaving anywhere in eastern Europe to walk from East Berlin across a street into the French, U.S. or British sector of the city, and then take a train or plane to anywhere in the west. By the 1960s, the Soviet Union and eastern Europe was experiencing a "brain drain", where good scientists and scholars were leaving for western Europe and the U.S. In 1961, the East German government constructed the Berlin Wall to keep people from leaving the Soviet sector of East Berlin, and thus all of Eastern Europe.

map of Germany showing four zones, then  showing Berlin divided with wall on west side of Russian sector

The U.S. saw the wall go up, as did the British and French, but decided not to start World War III in order to stop it. This was the Cold War, a standoff between communist and capitalist nations.

The Cold War was also evident in the United Nations. Shortly after the war, the U.S. had proposed the Baruch Plan, designed to halt nuclear development. But the Soviet Union felt it unfair to "freeze" conditions when only the U.S. had a nuclear bomb.

photograph of UN chamberThe United Nations, founded in 1945 in San Francisco, would be moved to New York City. It was located in the U.S. in order to ensure there would not be a repeat of post-Great War isolationism, which had excluded the U.S. from the League of Nations. There are two main bodies in the UN: the General Assembly, which consists of representatives from all member nations, and the Security Council. The Security Council has five permanent members in addition to members which rotate, and each permanent member has veto power. The permanent members in 1945 were Great Britain, France, the U.S., Republican China (later Communist China) and the Soviet Union (now Russia). The Security Council handles all issues that relate to international security (war and peace). So, the Soviet Union vetoed the Baruch Plan, and the nuclear arms "race" began.

The USSR detonated its first atomic device in 1949 (a year that also saw the communist takeover of China). States fearful of Soviet expansion formed NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In addition to nations on either side of the North Atlantic (the U.S., Canada, France, Britain, Portugal) others were included who might be useful against the Soviets (such as Turkey). The Soviets would respond with a similar communist nation club called the Warsaw Pact in 1955.

Between the end of the war in 1945 and the beginning of the Vietnam War in 1965, the Soviet Union and the U.S. "fought" each other around the world through "proxy" wars in smaller nations, by supporting the capitalist or communist side. The earth was divided into the First World (U.S. and allies), the Second World (Soviets and allies), and the Third World (non-aligned and others).

Among the significant events were:
The Korean War (1950), in which the U.S.-led U.N. pushed invading North Korea out of South Korea. Korea had been occupied by the Japanese, with the North surrendering to the Soviets and the south to the Americans. The North had become communist under Soviet tutelage, and had close ties to the newly communist China. U.S. President Truman was able to get the war started through the U.N. Security Council, because on that particular day the Soviets were boycotting the meeting Stalin statue head on the ground as people walk byto protest the U.N. refusing to allow Communist China to take the seat of Republican China. (They never missed another meeting.)
Revolt of Hungary (1956), which followed Stalin's death in 1953 and new leader Khruschev's efforts to de-Stalinize the USSR. Following Poland's lead, students and workers rebelled against Soviet oppression. When the new liberal government tried to pull out of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviets sent in tanks and ended the rebellion.
Suez Crisis (1956), in which the jointly-owned (by Britain and France) Suez Canal in Egypt was nationalized by Egyptian leader Nasser. This was also related to U.S. support for Israel (created 1948) against the Arabs in Palestine. Egyptian Arabs looked to the Soviets for support against capitalist interests, and got it. The British and French invaded Egypt. By 1957, both the Soviets and the U.S. had fleets off the coast of Egypt.
The building of the Berlin Wall (1961) (see above)
The Cuban Missile Crisis (1962), wherein the newly communist nation of Cuba was seen to be receiving offensive missile equipment from the Soviet Union, which could set up platforms for hitting the U.S. American President John F. Kennedy won the game of chicken against Soviet premier Khruschev, and the Soviets withdrew.


Post-War Theatre

It was during the Cold War that the U.S. really conquered Europe, and became a trendsetter in culture. The performing arts were, for many, Europe's introduction to what was becoming a thriving American culture. Nowhere was this more evident than in theatre.


One of the greatest writers in the American theatre was Tennessee Williams. Blanche DuBois (played by Vivian Leigh) and Stanley (Marlon Brando) looking at each otherThough he used much symbolism in his plays, his characters always seemed real. Freudian psychology played a great role in his work. His play A Streetcar Named Desire featured Blanche duBois, a pathological liar living in a fantasy world. She seemed to be southern gentility, full of airs and polite speech, but she's actually broke. Coming to live with her sister in a working-class neighborhood, she is forced to encounter an earthier lifestyle. The contact with reality, particularly in the form of sexually-charged encounters with her sister's husband, send her round the bend.

Arthur Miller's work also dealt with personal themes, but in an even more universal way. His Death of a Salesman (1949) is still one of the most performed plays in the world. It contains a very American mingling of material success, coupled with the need for love. Main character Willy Loman, a salesman, believes his sons won't love him unless he's a success, and he's trained his sons to believe the same thing. He works himself to death although he is far from successful, and only at the end photo of cast of a production of The Crucibledoes he realize that love is more important, and exists despite ones material failures.

Miller's work The Crucible relates directly to the Cold War. It is a retelling of the Salem witch trials, which took place in America in 1692. There are continual parallels between the witch hunts in the play and the ones taking place in the U.S. during the Cold War, as Congress hunted down American communists and sympathizers, all of whom were seen to be providing assistance to the Soviets, even if they weren't.


Musical theatre originated in London music halls, but became an American art form after the war. This was the age of Guys and Dolls, My Fair Lady, South Pacific, Camelot. Although such works are now sometimes considered frivolous, they often had serious themes and intricate stories.

One example is Rodgers and Hammerstein's South Pacific. Unlike music halls, where the action stopped for the songs, Rodgers and Hammerstein's work integrated story, music and characters; the songs move the action along. The play dealt with racial issues that were particularly American yet universal at the same time, as post-war Europe dealt with migrations of strangers into their nations. The play is set in the South Pacific islands during the war, and one main character is nurse Nellie Forbush, who falls in love with a French plantation-owner. Upon discovering he has two children from a deceased Polynesian wife, she has problems accepting him because of the race of his kids. The other main character is a young GI who falls for a local Polynesian girl, but feels he cannot marry her and bring her back to the states, where they would face prejudice. Producers wanted one of the songs that dealt with these issues specifically (You've Got to Be Taught) cut from the show, but Hammerstein insisted it remain.

click here for audio of songYou've got to be taughtclick here for music
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Theatre of the Absurd

During the 1950s, Europeans also created new theatrical forms. Eugene Ionesco, photo of Ionescowho was Romanian, was the father of "theatre of the absurd". His plays were in the tradition of existentialism, where man is defined by his actions. But, since actions were based on moral decisions, and morality was based on convention (because the truth is really chaos rather than order), human action was inherently illogical. He once said, "It's not a certain society that seems ridiculous to me, it's mankind."

book Workbook document: Ionesco's The Chairs

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In his work The Bald Soprano (1950), there really isn't any action. The characters are so alike they are interchangeable, and all the dialogue is cliché. The story degenerates from there, until at the end of the play the characters are just repeating letters of the alphabet. Just as abstraction was beginning to dominate visual arts, theatre began to take apart the elements that most people thought of as being theatrical.

The other expert of this genre was Samuel Beckett, who wrote Waiting for Godot in 1953. In this play, two homeless men sit on a bench and improvise diversions while waiting for Godot, who never shows. It is a metaphor for life, kind of like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, except that Godot might be God. The idea is that life itself is absurd; we're just creating diversions for ourselves.


Post-War Fashion click here for audio

movie still of man and woman looking angrily across the table at each other World War II brought about restrictions on fabric, which was needed for blankets, bandages and uniforms. The result of this and the emphasis on military action was broad-shouldered suits for women and men alike.


With the end of the war, fabric was more plentiful and many people wished to go "back to normal". Although post-war depression dampened sales, the Marshall Plan (1947) helped Europe recover economically. Paris designer Christian Dior developed the New Look, which was opulent and feminine.

The New Look was a relief from war-time rationing. Lipstick, mascara and eyeliner no longer meant a "loose" woman. Skirts were full, and waists were pinched in an emphasis of the hour-glass figure. Silk stockings and high heels completed the image.

movie poster: Murder My Sweet, with couple embracing

Men wore hats in public.

Men's fashion wasn't limited to business suits. Casual shirts (Hawaiian especially) made a debut during the 1940s.

The New Look, with hourglass silhouette

During the 1950s in the U.S., movie stars like James Dean popularized a new young look: jeans, t-shirt, and jacket.

It was during this time that young people began to take the lead in fashion.

James Dean in leather jacket with cigarette
Jackie Kennedy looking lovely in peach sleeveless dress and pearls, on boat
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy

By the early 1960s, the dresses were slimmer, shorter, and less ornate. To be fashionable was to be dressed simply, but elegantly and expensively. Women used hair spray to keep the rounded styles in place.


The Beatles with mop-top hair

The Beatles "mop top" look was considered radical, but became a trend in male hair by the mid-60s. Hair for men and women would become longer and more natural after that.

Kids with absurdly small car, one guy on each side and three women standing up in the seat Before 1965, dress was pretty conservative, and particularly casual for young people.

Post-War Gender and Sexuality

Feminismphotograph of Simone de Beauvoir

One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.

--Simone de Beauvoir, 1953

Simone de Beauvoir created modern feminist theory.

Her life is interesting. She was a teenager during the freedom of the 1920s, and was frequently at odds with her bourgeois parents regarding appropriate fashion and independence. Since they had no dowry for her, her family sent her to university at Sorbonne. There she became a teacher, novelist, and activist. She also began a life-long affair with existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, but they were not exclusive and didn't want to marry. She led a sexually free life, her middle-class money allowing her to obtain both birth control and abortion although they were illegal in France.

In her book The Second Sex, she noted Western culture as male-dominant and oppressive to women, who are born free but made to see themselves as secondary in society. She criticized the reassertion of traditional values that followed World War II. In showing how traditional science, history, and social sciences relegated women to a role as "the other" in society, she lay the groundwork for scholarly studies demonstrating the exclusion of women from the products of intellectual endeavor: literature, history, art, etc. Today there are plenty of reflections of what she began; for example, the current movement to include women in medical drug studies.

Homosexuality submerged

The post-war era saw the simultaneous Soldiers gathered around munitionevolution of the gay community and the anti-gay movement. World War II had caused changes in sexual contacts: the combat military was mostly male, the home front workers mostly female. Same-sex contact was thus increased, and provided an environment for exploring sexual identity and developing close friendships.

But the Cold War era environment was highly restrictive, emphasizing a reassertion of traditional gender roles and behavior. Women were supposed to be in the home, men in the public workplaces. Homosexuals were attacked, especially in the U.S., where they were purged from the armed forces, banned from federal jobs, harassed by police if they lived openly, and subjected to state laws against sexual deviancy. Those who rebelled against the norms of the day, such as Beat Generation writers, even if they weren't gay, became heroes for turning traditional values upside down. cover of The Ladder: a Lesbian Review, with Statue of LibertyThese cultural rebels against the suburban "Leave it to Beaver" mentality of the 1950s created an option that would set the pattern for the social rebellion of the 60s.

But during the 1950s, there were basically two options for gay people. You could "come out", going public with your sex life, frequenting known gay bars and dressing in the clothes expected in that particular group. Doing this would pave the way for the future by bringing forth injustice and discrimination. Groups formed like the Daughters of Bilitis (1955) and The Mattachine Society (1951) to help gay people create communities. The other option, taken by most, was to publicly deny your homosexuality, keeping friendships but ignoring or denying any sexual context. Because this was the most frequent response, post-war homosexuality is hard to study, as it became submerged in literature and public culture. It wasn't until the Stonewall event of 1968 occurred that open communities became popular.


Cold War Literature

George Orwell: Animal Farm (1945)

cover of the book, with big pig looking angry, with other farm animals around itOrwell's story of a farm where the animals take over was a parable of communist takeover in Russia, but it was more. In the story, the animals want to create a society where everyone is equal, but the pigs declare that "some are more equal than others". They make themselves the elite, even walking on two legs to imitate humans. Power corrupts. The story is as valid today as it was then.

Orwell's other highly significant book was 1984, a futuristic look at a society that becomes a police state. Double-speak propaganda ("War is Peace") dominates, and Big Brother keeps an eye on all citizens with intense surveillance.

Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita (1955)

still from the movie, with Lolita in the car while he drives

Nabakov believed that of the forbidden subjects in Western literature, the only plot less acceptable than a mixed-race couple having a happy marriage and children was a much older man in love with a young girl. He dealt with that in Lolita, which portrayed its male character with sympathy. His sexual obsession with a 12-year-old girl is documented with his internal psychological processes as he conducts an affair with her.

book Workbook document: Nabakov's Lolita

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Shocking in its explicitness, Nabokov's book was banned in Europe, though it was published in the U.S. Filmed versions in 1962 and 1997 stirred even more controversy.

1960s Literature

During the 1960s, literature became even more expressive of societal fears. In Burgess' A Clockwork Orange, gangs of kids go around committing acts of extraordinary violence. Using first-person narration, Burgess embues the novel with its own slang language, pulling you into the world of the perpetrators of violence. This book turned people's stomachs, and reflected fears of youth rebellion and societal extremes.

book Workbook document: Burgess' A Clockwork Orange

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photo of Sylvia Plath Poetry, also, reflected extremes of feeling. American Sylvia Plath tried to commit suicide in 1953, which led to psychiatric hospitalization and electroshock therapy, a story she told in the novel The Bell Jar (1963). On the backs of the drafts of this work she wrote some of the poems in Ariel. She was a brilliant poet of what was called the "confessional" style, pioneered by poet Robert Lowell. She successfully committed suicide in 1963, at the age of 30. Her poetry provides insight into the mind of a depressive genius, and marked the beginnings of a change in modern poetry.
book Workbook document: Plath's Ariel

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Social Revolution

The Beatles, Let It Be (1970)



All you need is love.

-- John Lennon, 1968

Stella painting
Frank Stella, Madinat as-Salam I , 1970


1960s & 70s Politics

The political context is important for understanding the culture of the era. Map of Indochina showing North and South Vietnam, DMZ between, Laos, CambodiaIn 1965, the U.S. sent troops to Vietnam in response to the weakness of the South Vietnamese government. Vietnam, like Korea, had been divided into a communist north and a capitalist south. But there were important differences. Unlike South Korea, South Vietnam had a separate culture, based primarily on Buddhism. Also unlike Korea, Vietnam had been a colony of the French, who wanted it back after World War II. This led to a nationalist rebellion against the French, the Indochinese War, which lasted until 1954 when France (mostly using American money) had lost. The division had taken place in the aftermath of this war, at the Geneva Accords, where the nation was temporarily divided between the south, ruled by Catholic aristocrat Ngo Dinh Diem, and the north. The north was ruled by Ho Chi Minh, communist hero of nationalism against the Japanese and French. Elections were promised for 1956, but were nixed by the U.S. and Diem when they realized Ho Chi Minh's popularity would assure a communist victory. The U.S. tried to prop up Diem's government

Monk immolating himself
Quang Duc's self-immolation protesting Diem's religious persecutions

with money and thousands of "advisors", but by 1965 his regime was failing.

American troops arriving in South Vietnam discovered that they were poorly organized compared to the communist government in the north, which was continuously supplying communist Viet Cong in the south by going around the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) through Laos and Cambodia. They also discovered that many in the south didn't want the U.S. there, including Buddhist monks who burned themselves alive in protest against either Diem's government or the American presence. (In 2001, a monk did the same protesting commmunist oppression.) In addition, troops were unprepared for the guerilla warfare conducted by the communist Vietnamese, who could rely on public support. In 1968, a coordinated (and televised) Viet Cong offensive against the U.S. caused the American government to lose public support for the war. (There have since been no freely televised American military actions.)

CoFrench Poster: hand writing, conjugating the verb to participate, folllowed by ils profitent (they profit)mbining U.S. interference in Vietnam, undertaken soley to prevent the spread of communism, with repressive governments led to social revolt. In the United States, civil rights groups, radicals, and students came out against the war. But Paris was the heart of social protest, under the restrictiveness of Charles DeGaulle's governmeFrench poster Pouvoir Populaire (Public Strength)nt. DeGaulle had been commander of the Free French in World War II, and yet young people marched with posters calling him a fascist.

An entire site of European media (in English, French, German and Spanish) sorry, site removed is a good place to research the Revolutions of 1968.

One reason for all the action was the sheer number of young people, who had been born in the "baby boom" following the Second World War. Historically (here's a theme), whenever young people dominate the demographics, change moves at an increased rate. That was certainly true of the 1960s and 1970s.

photo of crowds reaching up to tank soldiers
Czechs appeal to the Soviet tank soldiers

1968 also saw events called Prague Spring, in Czechoslovakia. Political leader Alexander Dubçek believed in "communism with a human face". His government instituted freedom of speech, and autonomy for Slovaks. Limited capitalism was permitted, and ties with the Soviets were loosened. The Soviets and governments of Eastern Europe, fearing reforms would spread, stormed Prague and installed a strict communist regime, putting Dubçek in jail. This indeed killed the hopes of many wanting democratic reforms in eastern Europe.

In 1975, the last U.S. troops evacuated Saigon, the capital city of South Vietnam, as it fell to the communists. At the same time, the U.S. and Europe were experiencing massive inflation of prices. This was caused by an oil crisis in the Middle East, begun by American support for Israel in the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Unemployment was rampant, and there was little money to invest in infrastructure. The result was a political move toward the right, best represented by President Ronald Reagan of the U.S. and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain in the early 1980s. In contrast to the social program funding of the 1970s, conservative governments cut social services and promised economic recovery. Calls for social reform were repressed or ignored during this crisis, and the era of Social Revolution ended.


Sexual Revolution

Twiggy looking slender in two-piece light blue sweater suit
Twiggy, the British model who represents the "mod" 1960s

The Sexual Revolution was tied into all the other kinds of radical social change occurring between 1965 and 1985. There was a prevailing idea among the younger generation that to have sex with whomever one wished was a right as significant as more political notions of freedom. Personal freedom in general was a rallying cry, and sexuality just another way of expressing it.

For women's sexuality, there was greater freedom in the 1960s than in any previous era (so far as we know). Popular books like Helen Gurley Brown's Sex and the Single Girl (1962) promoted greater freedom for women in choosing sexual partners and knowing their own bodies. It even promoted the idea that women should remain unmarried to protect this freedom. Although such freedom did help women in terms of sexual satisfaction, they seem throughout the 1960s to still have been treated with something less than equality. Did the mini-skirt (the ultimate style statement) and other revealing clothing represent a woman's own sexual freedom, or was it just a lure that encouraged men to treat her like an object?


old photo of the Stonewall InnIn the United States in 1969, at a gay bar in New York, police raiding and trying to make arrests faced a group of gay and transgender Americans who fought back. This event marked the beginning of the modern gay rights movement throughout the West. The Stonewall Riots were in some ways a natural result of trends that had begun in Germany in the 1890s, with Magnus Hirschfeld's Institute for Sexual Science. But Stonewall, unlike the Institute, led to an instant response from older gay groups and the formation of more. The North American Conference of Homophile Organizations created a manifesto in 1960. Here's a quotation:

We see the persecution of homosexuality as part of a general attempt to oppress all minorities and keep them powerless. Our fate is linked with these minorities; if the detention camps are filled tomorrow with blacks, hippies and other radicals, we will not escape that fate, all our attempts to dissociate ourselves from them notwithstanding. A common struggle, however, will bring common triumph.

This type of thinking put gay people on the same ground as other groups trying to achieve equality during this time of social revolution.

Women's Activism

photo of Stokely Carmichael with his mouth open
SNCC's Stokely Carmichael said that “the only position for women in the movement is prone.”

During the 1960s, numerous groups formed in the west advocating social activism. Many were modeled on the civil rights groups fighting for AfricanAmericans in the U.S. One of these, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) staged sit-ins and other acts of civil disobedience to bring black oppression to people's attention. Interestingly enough, SNCC ignored the issues of its own female members, who tried to point out that women had as few or fewer rights than black men. Similarly, the group Students for a Democratic Society, whose goal was "participatory democracy", had all male leadership; the women made coffee. Feminists were greeted with cat-calls and derision whenever they raised the "women's issue". Fed up, women left black civil rights groups and created modern feminist organizations.

The Women's Liberation movement began in earnest during the 1960s, as women's groups protested commercial exploitation, legal and educational and vocational inequality, and laws against contraception and abortion. They criticized the gap between ideals of freedom in the U.. and western Europe and the reality of their situation. photo of Germaine Greer looking pensiveA groundbreaking book of the feminist movement was Australian/British author Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch (1970), which was translated into a dozen languages. In a 1999 interview, Greer defined a female eunuch:

A eunuch is any person who has been castrated. The female eunuch is the woman who has been castrated in order to function as the feminine stereotype. That is, the glamorous, supermenial who is expected to be all things to all men, and nothing to herself.

She considered marriage to be a form of legalized slavery. In this sense, she was (and still is) much in the tradition of Wollstonecraft and de Beauvoir, in that she sees society as suppressing and preventing the actualization of its female citizens.

By the 1970s, the women's movement had become more focused. Concerns included contraceptive rights, which were opposed by churches, the medical establishment, and public opinion. Because of feminists' efforts, contraceptives became legal in France in 1968, and in 1975 the group Choisir ("to choose") publicized the case of a 16-year-old raped girl which legalized abortion. Similar campaigns in Italy and Spain led to legal changes. Other areas were prostitutes' rights (which led to the decriminalization of prostitution in England in 1978) and sexual violence against women. On this issue, an International Tribunal of Crimes Against Women met in Brussels in 1976 with representatives from 40 nations. They campaigned for rape to be considered an act of violence (rather than sex), a view which changed popular opinion and led to harsher penalties against offenders. Lesbians tried to work within women's groups to get themselves accepted, and faced the same sort of derision as women had faced in civil rights organizations. But successes included the founding of Women's Studies in college curricula, as an extension of the notions of feminists like Simone de Beauvoir.

But during the 1980s, with the conservatism in politics on both sides of the Atlantic, many gains were reversed. Although birth control was still available, popular culture began yet again to emphasize a woman's role as mother and de-emphasize her public role. This was true despite the presence of women in politics, such as Margaret Thatcher (Prime Minister of Britain).


Social Revolution Fashion (1965-85)

The Late Sixties

Fashions reflected the easing of gender restrictions, the sexuality of the youth movement, and a heightened awareness of other cultures during the 1960s.

Plastic was in, with transparent clothes part of "radical chic" for women. Here the plastic example is also a mini-skirt. Created by British designer Mary Quant, mini-skirts emerged in the 60s to become a fashion sensation, though they were worn a couple of inches shorter in Europe than in the U.S.

Nehru jacket with paisley decorationFor men, the Nehru jacket (Indian influence) was popular. This one is in paisley design, which was trendy in men's shirts. Men's fashion became pretty feminine in the late 1960s. This may have reflected a demographic trend in which there were more women than men, forcing men to dress the way women preferred in order to find mates. The loose shirts, intricate patterns, and bell-bottom pants men wore created a feminine silhouette similar to that of men in the 1690s, or any era where they had to attract women.

Photo of model in plastic mini-skirt
Cover of Beatles "Let It Be" album, showing all four

The 1970s

Men's hair finally grew long again, after about 50 years of being short. Facial hair was also back and sideburns were in. Note how the Beatles have changed from the last time you saw them (this is 1970).

photo from catalog of men in polyester pants




Platform shoes were worn by both sexes.

Seventies men's "Polyester Look". We've only seen clinging clothes for men a couple of times, and then usually only for legs. The tight physique-showing fashion indicates the continued need for men to attract women.

Women's flare pants and clinging shirts. Note the natural hair. This is the height of the women's movement, with the freedom represented in the clothing, which hadn't been this close to men's styles since World War II.


photo of wild orange platform shoes

drawing from pattern for women's flare pants

The 1980s

Women's hairstyles became shorter, encouraged by the trend-setting Princess Diana of Britain.

publicity photo of Prince Charles and Lady Diana

photo of Elvis Costello and band
British rocker Elvis Costello and band at the height of early 80s new wave fashion, showing the super-slim ties and jacket lapels, with colorful shoes. Male hair went short again in the 1980s, as it tends to in conservative times since World War I (like now).

Rock 'n' Roll

Rock 'n' Roll was the new music of the 1950s, but it achieved maturation during the 1960s and 70s. Deriving from the U.S., with its tradition of jazz and blues, rock 'n' roll had a driving beat, and many rock musicians responded to the social revolution of the time.

book Workbook document: The Beatles: Assorted Lyrics

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Beatles early days, playing musicI'm going to use The Beatles as a paradigm for the development of rock during the 60s. In their early songs, like "I Want to Hold Your Hand", the "mop tops" wrote fun but clean lyrics about being in love with girls.

The Beatles: I Want to Hold Your Hand (Lyrics) click here for song: I Want to Hold Your Hand

The films they made ("A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!") also showed naughty but fun-loving young men. This was very much in the tradition of mainstream 1950s rock'n'roll. But by 1965, their music was changing. The tunes and the lyrics reflected alienation and became much more personal.

The Beatles: Eleanor Rigby (Lyrics)
Beatles Yellow Submarine cartoon image of the four, with Ringo giving a peace sign
Beatles later: photo of them with longer hair, sideburns

In 1966, they stopped performing live. They experimented with drugs like LSD, and with Indian mysticism. They visited the Maharishi Yogi in India, their hair grew longer, and their music became psychedelic. In 1968 they created a drug-trip animated feature, Yellow Submarine, a story about a voyage to find Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, a music group which has been frozen by the Blue Meanies to prevent music saving the world from evil.


The message was love and music could save the world, which fit right in with the anti-war protests of the day. Though they broke up in 1970, their last songs together combined music and peace.

Of course, there was more to music than rock. Folk music began in America and travelled to Europe. Bob Dylan was a folk music artist who focuses on social responsibility and the anti-war movement, and noted that the times were changing:

click here for song: Bob DylanBob Dylan excerpt: The Times They Are A'Changing Lyrics

phot of Baez and Dylan singing togetherJoan Baez and Bob Dylan at civil rights march in 1963

The next song is part of protest history. Early in 2003, I heard it sung at peace marches protesting the U.S. war on Iraq. Today on NPR I heard people in Hong Kong singing it in Chinese to protest Chinese oppression, so obviously some protest songs went beyond the West.

click here for song: Joan BaezJoan Baez: We Shall Overcome Lyrics

I do not mean to imply that all important protest music was American. But American protest music was innovative because the U.S. did not have the 19th century revolutionary heritage on which to draw for nationalistic songs, and "Yankee Doodle" was not really appropriate. In Paris in 1968, 50,000 people sang the Internationale, which was too radical (literally) for the U.S.

During the 1970s, American songs like "I Am Woman" and "I Will Survive" showed women becoming stronger and more independent. I'm going to skip the disco and guitar rock of the 70's, but I want you to see the reversal of feminism in this popular 80's song from Scottish pop star Sheena Easton, called 9 to 5 in Britain and Morning Train in the U.S.

click here for song: Sheena EastonSheena Easton: 9 to 5 Lyrics

By the 1980s women were either trying to be Superwoman (working outside the home and homemaking too) or, like this one, back at home waiting for her man to come. The "I Am Woman" themes of feminist 1970s music were dying.



I'm going way out on a limb here, because thousands of pages have been written about Postmodernism, and I am not a philosopher. Here I consider Postmodernism as a cultural movement that consciously rejected utopian, abstract, rational modernism. It is related to the science of the day, such as quantum physics and chaos theory, which went beyond even the predictability of Eistein's physics to accept randomness and unpredictability. Postmodernism accepts the ugly and the disorganized in a way modernism does not, and thus provided a channel of expression for subjects previously submerged in society.


One of the most important things about postmodern art is that it can be intensely political, intensely personal, or both at the same time.

Yoko Ono's exhibit: ladder on white platform, magnifying glass handing from high canvas to top of ladder

Yoko Ono's exhibit from 1966 in London was a ladder with a framed piece of paper above. As John Lennon recalled:

I climbed the ladder, looked through the spyglass, and in tiny little letters it said: YES.
So it was positive. I felt relieved. . . That YES made me stay . .

photo of John and Yoko in bed with signs behind: Hair Peace, Bed PeaceLennon stayed and they married. In 1969, they staged a "bed-in" for peace, which some have called "honeymoon as performance art". Knowing how radical the couple were, reporters thronged in hoping for something sexy, but found John and Yoko serious in discussing world peace.

Judy Chicago's The Dinner Party (1974-79) Dinner Party: photo from abovewas a huge installation piece based on one of the arts most associated with women throughout history: embroidery. Chicago called it a "reinterpretation of The Last Supper from the point of view of those who've done the cooking throughout history." It contains place settings for women important throughout history, with additional names from each era embroidered on the tablecloths. It was a feminist statement, designed to educate as well as intrigue. The place settings caused as much controversy as Chicago's choice of females, since the plates contained differently-designed abstract work that all resembled female genitalia.

Goddess setting Pisan setting Wollstonecraft setting
Place settings for the Primordial Goddess, Christine de Pisan, and Mary Wollstonecraft


I realize I have done little with film so far, except for movie star role-models of the 1920s. With the postmodern era the contributions of European and American film-makers provided a mirror on concerns ranging from the Cold War to personal inadequacy.

North by Northwest: Cary Grant running from crop-dusting plane

British director Alfred Hitchcock set ordinary people in extraordinary, and often deadly circumstances. During the 1950s and 60s, he created films which wrapped such characters in elaborate psychological plots. Mistaken identity was a common theme. One example would be North by Northwest, wherein an ordinary businessman is mistaken for a CIA agent. The hero must extricate himself from the trap and catch the real perpetrators, all while seducing the girl. In this scene, the businessman tries to see a diplomat, at whose house he was threatened the night before.

HAL disconnected by Dave in spacesuit, inside the computer
HAL gets disconnected as he relives his programming, singing "Daisy, Daisy"

Stanley Kubrick was an American author/director who filmed Nabakov's Lolita in 1962 in such a way as to get it past the censors, but his postmodern focus is more evident in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). In this film, the movie moves from prehistoric times to the future, considering space travel in broad, disconnected terms. More memorable for most people, in the latter part of the film a spaceship is run by a computer, the HAL 9000 (one letter difference from IBM), which takes over control of the ship and has to be disconnected manually and painfully by a human to prevent disaster. The film is thus considered a harbinger of the power of computers (including the computer I'm on, which doesn't always do what I tell it!).photo of Trauffaut

Francois Truffaut was at the forefront of French new wave cinema in the 50s, and became one of France's most important directors. He was a great admirer of the moral distance Hitchcock put between himself and his subjects, and indeed he wrote a study on Hitchcock which included lengthy interviews with the British director. In true postmodern style, his life and art intermingled. One film, Le Nuit Américaine (Day for Night) of 1973, is a tribute to filmmaking, starring himself as director. You get to see the backstage sniping and love affairs, as well as the techniques used to make a movie.

Italian director Federico Fellini once said "There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the infinite passion of life." 8 1/2 photo still with woman and manAlthough his works in the 1950s were realistic, beginning in the 1960s mystical qualities entered his films. His autobiographical movie 8 1/2 (1963) features a hassled director who has lost heart on his current film but can't back out because of the money. Guido is plagued by former stars and crew who want work, and can't find a good idea for his story. He retreats into his own dreams, and his own past, especially his life as a boy and his love affairs as a younger man. In these dreams he finds the will to carry on. Considered Fellini's alter-ego, Marcello Mastroianni played the lead in many of his films.


Postmodernism in literature continued some of the internal trends of the 1960s, but also contained examinations of literature itself. The first is evident in Margaret Atwood's poem.

book Workbook document: Margaret Atwood: They Eat Out

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When I read it, I imagine a couple sitting at a restaurant, and he's yakking while she's imagining stabbing him and tranforming their dinner into a gory horror movie scene under her control. It's feminist, but it's brutal. Deadly serious. And very funny. If you don't think so, try it again after hearing click here for audio of song"Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing", the song to which her horrifying scene is set.

book Workbook document: Milan Kundera: The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1979)

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Czech writer Kundera seems to be reviewing the patterns of postmodern literature, even though this is a novel. He looks at writing in a similar way to Truffaut or Fellini lookiing at film-making, from the inside of the goldfish bowl.




All text, lecture voice audio, and course design copyright Lisa M. Lane 1998-2018. Other materials used in this class may be subject to copyright protection, and are intended for educational and scholarly fair use under the Copyright Act of 1976 and the TEACH Act of 2002.