Something I found most profound in the readings for this week was this constant discussion of venereal diseases and how this topic transcended to everyday aspects of life around the early to mid-1900s and then progressing even to the 1970s. The readings made it apparent that these diseases were not the only problem, in fact they were more of a symptom of a much larger issue, the tip of the iceberg that kept the much more dangerous realities hidden. The hidden reality of open promiscuity, premarital sex, and a new sort of female sexual awakening that previously was hidden and reserved for exclusive metropolitan areas.
It is evident the government and society, notes this symptom as an open expression of increased sexual openness in their response. From reading Sex in the Heartland I saw how they attempted to deal with women who had contracted these sexually transmitted diseases. By jailing them for treatment men once again asserted a sort of dominance over their female counterparts. Most notable was that men who had contracted these VDs were not quarantined but rather the female he suspects gave it to him was. As if women were natural carriers of these VDs and the men who also partake in sexual acts with them were their victims.
I also find this forced jailing interesting because it appears that it served more than just a public health measure. The forced quarantine, “round up” style of apprehending these women appears to be much more of a punishment than for safety. I believe that while the quarantine did have some public safety aspects it was more heavily used as a sort of punishment to sexually active women. This is evident when Dr. Bailey speaks on the class divide. That women of higher socioeconomic status, or even married women for that matter, (women who were virtuous) were not jailed and quarantined for carrying VDs however women in lower classes (unmarried, underage, prostitutes, etc.) were quickly arrested and quarantined. This has been a commonality in our readings ever since the emergence of a middle and lower class was created in the United States. Women in a ruling Bourgeoise class aid in dictating social sexual norms and practices, remain virtuous, and are largely exempted from these laws. Whereas working class women are expected to fill a role they are largely incapable of. This bourgeoise expression of instilling social norms and rules can also be seen in the development of early “sex education” programs. The Massachusetts Society for Social Health was one major organization discussed by Elaine Tyler May. This organization featured various discussions on new social hygienic practices while also covering topics like marriage and trying to reinforce traditional household roles.
This is one section of a larger issue beginning to emerge in America at this time. Not only were women becoming more public about sexual interactions, they were becoming more public as a whole. World War II placed women in the labor force, which they did not intend on giving up after. As they began to enter spaces originally reserved for men, the notions of traditional households was shaken and the reaction largely fell against women. That women were to blame for the spread of VDs, if a household fell apart it was because the woman was selfish and continued to work, and so on. I believe this short sited view of women during the early to mid-1900s is still carried into today, while most are not necessarily concerned with women maintaining a traditional home sphere. There is a sort of unconscious push in society to blame women when the household is not cohesive, to blame women as carriers of sexual diseases. I think it is an interesting double edged sword. In these readings women are regarded by society as both victims and aggressors. Women were victims to these VDs but also received the punishment for carrying it. They were victims in having to join the workforce however aggressors when they wanted to continue their labor and allow for the crumbling of a traditional household.