Erotic City: Sexual Revolutions and the Making of Modern San Francisco, by Josh Sides (Oxford University Press, 2009) ISBN: 978-0-19-537781-1
Sides offers a new twist to understanding the postwar urban landscape by arguing that changing cultural standards, as well as race relations, were a prime factor at play in shaping modern urban history. Specifically, he examines battles over the public expression of sexuality in the streets and neighborhoods of San Francisco to craft a portrait of a city undergoing a crisis of meaning over the course of the twentieth century. Moving neighborhood by neighborhood, Sides considers how changing moral standards were reflected in the built environment and places the theoretical firmly within the tangible reality of the city. While men are often at the center of the story—conducting police raids, running for office, creating the overt gay culture of the Castro District—women play a primary role as well. Battles over prostitution and erotic dancing are ultimately about expressions of female sexuality, and women were active participants in the transformation of the city, as concerned mothers, hippie nudists, lesbian feminists and sex industry workers. The book details Dianne Feinstein’s early career as a local politician who campaigned on a platform of “cleaning up” the city, and it makes a particularly interesting case for the sexual revolution continuing into the 1980s and 1990s, led by sex-positive lesbians who took up the cause after AIDS constrained the behavior of gay men and heterosexuals.
-- Sue Ferentinos