Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Carol Dyhouse's "Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire"

Carol Dyhouse is Professor (Emeritus) of History at the University of Sussex. She has written extensively about the social history of women, gender, and education. Her recent publications include Glamour: Women, History, Feminism (2011) and Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women (2013). She is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and in 2004 she was awarded an honorary D.Litt from the University of Winchester in recognition of her work on history and education.

Dyhouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire, and reported the following:
Heartthrobs: A History of Women and Desire looks at men through the eyes of women. It has a lot to say about the influence of fairy-tale romance and fantasy, particularly the story of Cinderella. Walt Disney’s animated cartoon version of Cinderella premiered in 1950 and was a big hit in the postwar world. In England, young girls’ dreams of meeting Prince Charming were amplified by the glittery spectacle of a royal wedding and the coronation of a young Queen Elizabeth, who, though hardly Cinderella, wore a dress to die for and arrived at the abbey in a golden coach. In the United States, a romantic comic book series launched with the title Cinderella Love. Cosmetics manufacturers introduced lipstick in a ‘Cinderella’s pumpkin’ shade of orange. In such and so many ways, culture patterns our dreams.

By the 1980s, social change and the rise of feminism had diluted the appeal of the Cinderella story and a new kind of irony crept into representations of her Prince. On page 99 of Heartthrobs I describe British pop star Adam Ant’s performance as Prince Charming in his hugely successful music video of 1981. He poses first as a masculine Cinderella, vulnerable in a grubby singlet, before being transformed by his fairy godmother into a sexily trussed-up and dandified Hussar. Arriving at the ball in a sleek, low-bodied sports car, he struts towards a mirror wearing tight, silver-leather breeches. There’s a hypnotic drumbeat. He dashes the mirror to pieces. Shots of the star posing as Clint Eastwood, Alice Cooper and Rudolph Valentino’s Sheik represent the shards from which this picture of desirable maleness was composed. The performance unpicks cultural representations of gender, showing masculinity as both cocky and vulnerable, as haunted by a fear of female voraciousness (the ugly sisters chomp on heart-shaped chocolates), and as needing to overcome ridicule. It is oddly profound, and both men and women found it appealing.

My page 99, then, suggests changing templates of desirable masculinity, reflected through a cultural hall of mirrors: a fair clue, I think, to what this book is about.
Learn more about Heartthrobs at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue