On 13th July 2022, SHaME was honoured to welcome attendees both virtually and in person for the official book launch of Dr Charlie Jeffries’ book, Teenage Dreams: Girlhood Sexualities in the US Culture Wars (Rutgers University Press, 2022). In conversation with SHaME’s Prof Joanna Bourke, Charlie centred girls’ voices in the political and social debates which raged through the decades, as well as problematising what exactly is meant by ‘girlhood’ itself. Charlie also read a fascinating and engaging excerpt from her book on movements of girl cultures in the 1990’s in resistance to the sexual politics of the era. The questions and discussion afterwards covered fascinating ground from racism to vaccination, and Bill Clinton’s sexual politics to Riot Grrrl, finishing with a discussion of the changes in abortion rights in the US (and why she wishes she was more surprised.)
Teenage Dreams utilizes a breadth of archival sources from activists, artists, and policymakers to examine the race- and class-inflected battles over adolescent women’s sexual and reproductive lives in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century United States. Charlie Jeffries finds that most adults in this period hesitated to advocate for adolescent sexual and reproductive rights, revealing a new culture war altogether–one between adults of various political stripes in the cultural mainstream who prioritized the desire to delay girlhood sexual experience at all costs, and adults who remained culturally underground in their support for teenagers’ access to frank sexual information, and who would dare to advocate for this in public. The book tells the story of how the latter group of adults fought alongside teenagers themselves, who constituted a large and increasingly visible part of this activism. The history of the debates over teenage sexual behavior reveals unexpected alliances in American political battles, and sheds new light on the resurgence of the right in the US in recent years.
You can watch a recording of the event below:
Dr Charlie Jeffries is a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of History, Classics, and Archaeology at Birkbeck, University of London and is a Senior Associate Fellow of SHaME. Her research focuses on the history of sexuality and the history of social movements in the late twentieth-century and early twenty-first century United States. She has work published in the Journal of American Studies, and she is currently researching the history of anti-sexual violence activism on US campuses from the 1990s to present. Teenage Dreams is her first monograph.
Joanna Bourke is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, and a Fellow of the British Academy. She is the Principal Investigator of the SHaME project. She is the prize-winning author of fifteen books, as well as over 100 articles in academic journals. Among others, she is the author of Rape: A History from the 1860s to the Present (2007), What it Means To Be Human: Reflections from 1791 to the Present (2011), and The Story of Pain: From Prayer to Painkillers (2014). Her most recent book, Disgrace: Global Reflections on Sexual Violence, was published by Reaktion Books in July 2022. Her books have been translated into Chinese, Russian, Spanish, Catalan, Italian, Portuguese, Czech, Turkish, and Greek. She is a frequent contributor to TV and radio shows, and a regular correspondent for newspapers.