Male domination/female degradation: women's sexuality in bestselling romance fiction from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s

Barbara Shaw

Document Type Dissertation/Thesis


For years I read popular romance novels and never thought of the possible influences such books had on my values and lifestyle. However, once I thought about the possible consequences of millions of women reading this genre of bestselling "trash," my interest grew into a search for answers. Do these novels perpetuate traditional roles for women and uphold patriarchal ideology, or do these bestselling fictions advocate women's sexual liberation and potential? When I began thinking about the scope of my honors project, my first idea for historically tracing the changes in women's sexuality seen through romance novels was to look broadly at them starting with Charlotte Temple written in 1794 and concluding with the study of the 1980s including contemporary popular authors such as Danielle Steele and Jackie Collins. However, as I quickly discovered, this idea would make my project impossible for a year-long pursuit, so I began to narrow my topic. I decided to focus this paper on women's sexuality in best-selling romances that were written during the post-war years, specifically from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, using the following books: Peyton Place (956) by Grace Metalious, Valley of the Dolls (1966) by Jacqueline Susann, Fear of Flying (1973) by Erica Jong, and Looking for Mr. Goodbar (1975) by Judith Rossner.