Sample Masters Dissertation

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Relying heavily on a historicizing of these issues, my project shows how these texts—both fictional and nonfictional—create a rich and valid site from which to explore the development of narratives of sexuality and reproductive practices, as well as how these narratives connect to larger cultural narratives of race, class, and nation.Drawing from the history of adolescence and the context of midcentury female juvenile delinquency, I argue that studios and teen girl stars struggled for decades with publicity, censorship, and social expectations regarding the sexual license of teenage girls.Until the late 1950s, exploitation films and B movies exploited teen sex and pregnancy while mainstream Hollywood ignored those issues, struggling to promote teen girl stars by tightly controlling their private lives but depriving fan magazines of the gossip and scandals that normally fueled the machinery of stardom.Yet, in doing so, it also suggests that if it is position not passion that matters, then as long as a woman assumes the right position in the family then deep emotional connections to others are not necessary for her to care competently for others.”“Prior to the advent of modern birth control beginning in the nineteenth century, the biological reproductive cycle of pregnancy, post-partum recovery, and nursing dominated women’s adult years.The average birth rate per woman in 1800 was just over seven, but by 1900, that rate had fallen to just under than three and a half.While the chapters of this work often focus on traditional sites of birth control—contraceptives, abortion, and eugenics—they are not limited to those forms, uncovering previously hidden narratives of reproduction control.This new lens also reveals men’s investment in these reproductive practices.I argue that the space of the specter is a force of representation, an invisible site in which the uncertainties of antebellum economic and social change become visible.I read this spectral space in canonical works by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman and in emerging texts by Robert Montgomery Bird, Theophilus Fisk, Fitz James O’Brien, and Edward Williams Clay.The emergence and image of the postwar, sexually autonomous teen girl finally began to see expression in mainstream melodramas of the late 50s, and teen girl stars such as Sandra Dee and Natalie Wood created new, “post-delinquent” star images wherein “good girls” could still be sexually experienced.This new image was a significant departure from the widespread belief that the sexually active teen girl was a fundamentally delinquent threat to the nuclear family, and offered a liberal counterpoint to more conservative teen girl prototypes like Hayley Mills, which continued to have cultural currency.”“This dissertation joins a vibrant conversation in the social sciences about the challenging nature of care labor as well as feminist discussions about the role of the daughter in Victorian culture.

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