USA : Journal of the history of sexuality Vol. 21 No 3 September 2012
A brief excerpt of the content:
Even the most casual observer of recent popular culture is well aware of the phenomenon of the sex-saturated innocence of celebrity girl singers. They are but recent examples of the evocative relationship between
young women and sexuality in pop music in the second half of the twentieth century. Young female singers in France in the 1960s—called copines, perhaps best translated “gal pals”—were similarly thrust into the
spotlight with the growing popularity of rock and roll, and sexual suggestiveness often accompanied their success. Like their modern-day parallels, the copines were caught in a web consisting of the social limitations
of their age and sex, the moral expectations concerning female adolescence, and the special freedoms their commercial success afforded. This web was anchored within a culture of new sexual expectations in which
young people were to be sexy without being sexual.
Popular music was sexually threatening in the postwar period, and the tension between the image of the copines as being both innocent and sexual reveals the broader tensions created by the transformation in
social and sexual attitudes in France during the 1960s as part of what historians have termed “the long sexual revolution.” While for young men, popular music provided an opportunity to redefine sexual norms,
music produced and performed by young women did little to challenge and often reinforced such norms, underscoring the importance of gender in dictating and defining the experiences and character of the long
sexual revolution during the 1960s. The history, reception, and aesthetics of commercially successful music recorded by young women between 1960 and 1965 illustrates how the long sexual revolution operated in
gendered registers in the cultural expression of sexuality.
The “sexual revolution,” the transformation of sexuality and its appearance in the public sphere in the 1970s, has often been seen as part of a global change in sexual behaviors, one aspect of the general challenges
young people made to social values in the Western world. Although the sexual revolution is linked in popular memory, especially in France, to the student protests that took place in 1968, scholars, among them
Arthur Marwick, Hera Cook, Michael Seidman, and Dagmar Herzog, have recently asserted the more convincing notion of a “long sexual revolution” rather than any single watershed moment in the history of
Seidman in particular notes the challenges to sexual norms apparent in France during the late fifties and early sixties: “Many women were already questioning the traditional vision of female fulfillment in marriage
and motherhood and refused to become ‘baby-making machines.’”3 In a similar way, the development of the birth control pill, which facilitated the divorce between sex and procreation, has often been viewed as a
defining aspect of the sexual revolution. In France it was not until the passage of the Loi Neuwirth that birth control was fully legalized in 1967. Yet, as Herzog asserts, the Pill was not the head of Athena from which
the sexual revolution in the late 1960s sprang but part of a larger development of new attitudes concerning sex
In France, as Julian Bourg notes, these changes included a tacit social acceptance of some forms of sexual activity for youth, a significant reconfiguration of understandings of sexuality in young people.
Indeed, its beginnings are evident in the French media by the late 1950s, whether in the films of Brigitte Bardot or In
the novels of Françoise Sagan, both of whom symbolized a sexualized youth culture focused on pleasure and made it visible.6 If their successes in the cultural marketplace offer any proper measures, these were ideas that
resonated in the French public. But cultural popularity did not necessarily signal social acceptance. Sex within marriage was still the social norm and ideal, and the seductive enfant terrible (bad girl) of film and fiction
also became a cultural archetype of the dangers that youth sexuality posed to postwar France, even as she commanded the attention of French audiences.
Also impacting notions of sexuality in France long before 1968 was French popular music, which had changed dramatically thanks to the arrival of American rock and roll in the late fifties. Rock and roll music provided