Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland (Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London, England: Harvard University Press, 1999). Pp. vii+265. $27.00. ISBN 0-674-80278-0.
The achievements in this book are many and not least among them are the questions the study raises.
Bailey researches the so-called "sexual revolution" in America as it happened in a small town, Lawrence, Kansas. She argues that had the upheaval in matters of sex remained only among the "usual suspects" of Greenwich Village say or Haight-Ashbury, there would have been no revolution. Surely this is true, and Bailey's narration of battles fought in Lawrence scores her point beautifully, which is to claim the revolution for the heartland and not just for the "radical fringes." (5)
The question is whether a university town-as is Lawrence, Kansas-is in fact the "heartland", culturally speaking and not just geographically. Libraries, archives, seminars, classrooms of the university tend to secure the town's potential for noise and upheaval, for expression of disparate views and tensions, as Bailey the historian records so well. But what about towns and communities with no college or university (few to be sure in the U.S.), where people rely only on the TV, movies, the local newspaper, and gossip for information?
Bailey's careful and thorough research of Lawrence inspires this question and has convinced this reviewer that more study is needed of the multiple "silent", non-university towns-the cultural heartland-whose folks appear regularly, for example, on the Jerry Springer Show.
In claiming that this was a revolution of America (3) emerging more from the "texture of everyday life" in places like Kansas, and deriving less from radical actions (213), Bailey reminds us that revolutions, even sexual ones, are very complicated events that are not captured by facile generalization. They may need to be studied over and over again, with more stories told.
As I read Bailey, the sexual revolution in America may have been an evolution - people and events in Lawrence were moving towards change way before the banners were waived. This is not to minimize the real changes that were made. The critical question arising here is the working status of the concept of "revolution" for historical study, a most salutary query.
The rich narrative of historical events in the town of Lawrence, preceding and following the "official" dates of the sexual revolution (Bailey is great on breaking down the "official" anything) engages one's attention but then I like details since the fun of the story is in the whole story, as it were, with a promise of more to come.
Ann R. Cacoullos
University of Athens