Ashley Bergman/Beatlemania: a sexually defiant consumer subculture?
In "Beatlemania: A sexually defiant consumer subculture?" Barbara Ehrenreich, Elizabeth Hess, and Gloria Jacobs attempt to explain why the reaction to the Beatles was intense. Ehrenreich, et al, suggest that it was more than just the music that got these girls fired up, it was also a way for them to break free of oppressive gender roles. Girls were expected to be sexy without having sex in order to someday get a man to marry them. There were many rules they were told to follow and, according to these rules, the outcome if they did not strictly adhere to the rules would be catastrophic or at least extremely unpleasant. So dutifully these girls went to high school knowing this was the high point of their lives for once they got married they were essentially taken out of the public sphere and bound to the house. Enhrenreich argues that the Beatles helped these girls break free of their passive roles, lay claim to sexual feeling, and, the way that sports did for boys, helped the girls get some sexual release. It also didn't hurt that the Beatles themselves were somewhat androgynous: they had long hair and other feminine qualities that appealed to girls who were both a little afraid of sex and who were trying to break free of the gender roles as the Beatles had. The bottom line, though, was that the girls envied the Beatles: they were free to be sexual, strong, and do what they liked.
Ehrenreich, et al's argument is compelling and well-supported but it does not answer a very simple and crucial question: why now? What was going on at the time that made these girls suddenly decide that breaking free of gender roles was something they wanted to do? Enrenreich does, again, mention the fact that the Beatles are androgynous which goes along with breaking gender roles, but why at that particular point in time? From lectures we know the Beatles hit America at precisely the right timeâ€”things were going well in America economically yet socially and politically the nation was in turmoil. The Civil Rights movement was underway and JFK had just been shot: the country was in mourning and two months later the Beatles showed up. While it seems true that girls reacted so strongly to the Beatles because of their desire to break from gender roles, there must have been more of an impetus than just that. It seems likely that the girls were also using the Beatles as a distraction from their sadness. Furthermore, they were probably using their music as escape from their predictable life paths: as the Beatles were different in terms of personality and appearance than the crew-cut guys they were destined to marry and by laying claim to sexual feelings for them was another way to reject their futures.
Ehrenreich and companyâ€™s article is a good one with solid evidence and support for the argument, but it also ignores the larger world the girls lived in. By isolating Beatlemania to just an interaction between the girls and the Beatles leaves a lot of unanswered questions still about why Beatlemania was so intense.