Relative Intimacy

Fathers, Adolescent Daughters, and Postwar American Culture

By Rachel Devlin

272 pp., 5.5 x 8.5, 13 illus. , notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5605-5
    Published: June 2005
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-7632-9
    Published: March 2006

Gender and American Culture

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Celebrated as new consumers and condemned for their growing delinquencies, teenage girls emerged as one of the most visible segments of American society during and after World War II. Contrary to the generally accepted view that teenagers grew more alienated from adults during this period, Rachel Devlin argues that postwar culture fostered a father-daughter relationship characterized by new forms of psychological intimacy and tinged with eroticism.

According to Devlin, psychiatric professionals turned to the Oedipus complex during World War II to explain girls' delinquencies and antisocial acts. Fathers were encouraged to become actively involved in the clothing and makeup choices of their teenage daughters, thus domesticating and keeping under paternal authority their sexual maturation.

In Broadway plays, girls' and women's magazines, and works of literature, fathers often appeared as governing figures in their daughters' sexual coming of age. It became the common sense of the era that adolescent girls were fundamentally motivated by their Oedipal needs, dependent upon paternal sexual approval, and interested in their fathers' romantic lives. As Devlin demonstrates, the pervasiveness of depictions of father-adolescent daughter eroticism on all levels of culture raises questions about the extent of girls' independence in modern American society and the character of fatherhood during America's fabled embrace of domesticity in the 1940s and 1950s.

About the Author

Rachel Devlin is associate professor of history at Tulane University.
For more information about Rachel Devlin, visit the Author Page.

Reviews

"A sophisticated analysis. . . . A lucid, tightly research account of the Foucauldian development of female social sexuality in this decade."--Material Culture

"A fine book that raises interesting questions and would be an appropriate text for a family or gender course or a seminar on psychoanalaysis and the postwar era."--Journal of the History of Sexuality

"In this highly imaginative reading of a wholly neglected feature of family life, Devlin provides a fresh vantage point for understanding teen culture, the sexualized nature of the 1950's family, and the limited, and even troubling, style of fathers' involvement in that decade."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Thoroughly researched, convincingly argued and well written, Devlin's book is a welcome addition to scholarship on adolescence and on female experience in particular."--Journal of American Studies

"Devlin's work is quite fascinating and very readable."--Left History

"A thoughtful and well-researched examination of the cultural construction of the father-daughter relationship in postwar culture. . . . [Devlin's] argument is original, and the book contributes to a complex and sophisticated portrait of the 1950s."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society