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  (Gender/Sexuality/Culture) Rock & Roll and Sexual Liberalism Among White Teenage Americans in the 1950s According to Beard & Gloag’s  Musicology: The Key Concepts (2005), gender is specifically defined as “the social constructedness of what maleness and femaleness mean in a given culture” (p.51). Gender can be expressed in relation to many life aspects and factors, such as religion, identity, class, and ethnicity, and hence broken down into further sexual subcategories such as heterosexuality and homosexuality. (p.52) Gender refers to the classification of human traits, divided into two, masculine  and  feminine , or by their equivalent related terms (Maus, 2011, p.317). However, the terms masculine  and  feminine are used as adjectives describing human behaviours and personalities, male  and  female are the terms that marks the difference between biological sex of humans. Maus defined sexuality as the feelings, actions, and behaviour which involve erotic desires (p.318). In religious contexts, the term  sex  is described as a gift from God to humans, but humans do not receive it directly from God but mediated by the culture of the society the humans live in (Paris, 2011, p.24). However, there are arguments on how sexuality is viewed in religious terms. Marshall (2017) stated that sexuality has long been misunderstood and abused, questioning on whether sexuality is still cherished as God’s gift or nothing but sinful feelings of lust, as God created sexuality for committed marriages and child-  bearing purposes and should not be “debased or manipulated” as seen today.  As mentioned, culture is a significant factor that affects how sexuality, is perceived among the society. Foucault (1978) highlighted the conceptualization of sexuality in the 19th century made ontological perspective changes from sexual acts to sexual identities and behaviour. The topic of sexuality has been controversial and considered a taboo in American society and culture  prior to the mid-20 th  century before the emergence of Rock & Roll music in the 1950s. During war times, Americans saw children as a symbol of happiness and hope, hence after World War 2 ended,  parents longed for peace to forget their terrible experience at war which led them to starting their own families and started the baby-boomer generation (Dulová, 2006, p.22). Churches further emphasized the foundational values in which having a harmonious family is the basis of peace and citizens geared their core societal values towards family (ibid).   The fundamental values of white American families prior to the 1950s were towards religious  piety, strict family moral rules, and labour (Stone, 1994, p.86). During this time, young white teenagers were highly expected to devote themselves to serve in church and labour to contribute to the family income, as well as to strictly adhere to the conventional culture. There were little or not at all any form of entertainment designed for the young ones as majority of them were family-oriented and obedient, e.g. to go to school or work and stay home during the night. Topics on sexual liberty were seen as controversial, after all the young whites themselves had not much exposure to it. Rock & Roll emerged during the early 1950s. As families became wealthier through the years and being able to afford radios and televisions at home, the music genre went viral all across the States with the advent of mass media (Baughman, 2006, p.220). Therefore, this essay revolves around the key concepts of gender, sexuality, and culture, and hence intends to argue on how Rock & Roll music in the 1950s-60s should be seen as a counterculture that had inspired a new identity among young white American teenagers, embracing sexual liberalism  –    or the freedom to express one’s sexual expressions –   and should not be seen as a controversial genre that challenged the conventional moral values and stirred immorality and lust. Historians and research have shown that Rock & Roll music had challenged the conventional mentality and values of white Americans, that eventually resulted a counterculture despised by  parents but embraced by teenagers (Aquila, 2000, p.21). One of the issues was the Boston Arena riot in 1958, whereby a white woman ran up onto the stage and grabbed Chuck Berry’s crotch while he was singing (Rogers, 2005, p.1). The case was viewed much seriously as it was a white woman having sexual desires with Chuck Berry who was a black man, as racial segregation and the mentality of “white supremacy” was still part of the culture.  Moreover, Rock & Roll was also heavily criticized by conservative religious critics, relating the music with Satanic dedication (Haynes, 1982, p.35), while evangelist Michaelson described Rock & Roll music as a distasteful hybrid of biblical words with youth slangs (1975, p.17). Bishop Russell McVinney of Providence and archbishop Samuel Cardinal Stritch of Chicago publicly condemned and defamed Elvis Presley, the m ain figure of Rock & Roll, calling him “a fad leading teens to animalism” and described his music as “tribal” (Hanson, 2011).     However, the views remain vague as there is still no evidence up to date that all Rock & Roll music associate with Satanism. Some say Rock lovers perceive the music as soul-searching and redemption (Turner, 19995, p.26). As mentioned, sexuality topics had long been a taboo among the white American society as it only purposes to fulfil conservative expectations on marriage and producing offspring and forbid sexual liberalism. The term “Rock & Roll” srcinally depicted a boat “rocking and rolling” about in the ocean, however it was widely referred as a sexual colloquial, stereotypically referring it with intercourse actions (Zhang, 2013, p.57). White American parents detested Rock & Roll music as they fear its “sexually -  provocative” influences encourage their children to break laws and destruct the moral values among the society, as religious-wise, sexual liberalism is not “in line with God’s plan” (  Naugle, 2016, p.10). People labelled Elvis Presley as a “morally - corrupted pervert” due to his signature on -stage “ hootchy-kootchy ”  moves (Wallace, 2012, p.109). Parents saw him as toxic influence to teenage girls, making them irresistible and “sexually enticing” them, hence the cause of the 1958 Boston Arena riot.  Rock & Roll was also criticized for its song lyrics. Take Jerry Lee Lewis’s 1957 hit Great Balls of Fire for example. From its lyrics, it is to no surprise that white adults perceive the genre as controversial. However, as much as Rock & Roll was being despised, teenagers of the fifties rebelled against the sexual conservativeness and hence made Rock & Roll the focal point of teenage culture. There are numerous criticisms toward Rock & Roll and its influences, however majority of the criticisms seem vague as their judgements are rather subjective. There is no concrete evidence on Rock & Roll promoting immoral sexual activities and associating with other wrongdoings. Despite Elvis’s somehow enticing gyrations on stage, the lyrics of his songs do not have connections to promoting immoral sex behaviours. In his song  Love Me Tender  , its lyrics talk about a man showing his love and dedication to the lady he loves and does not have any ill sexual content. The lyrics of  Heartbreak Hotel   were solely based on a note of a suicidal man, and nothing erotic in it (Hutchinson, 2005). Looking back into the mentioned lyrics excerpt from Great Balls of Fire , it can be argued that the lyrics do not promote ill behaviour too. It can be also seen from a different perspective, for example,  giving men encouragement to chase after the ones they love, or also to teach men to appreciate their loved ones more. However, the arguments remain subjective and it is up to the listener’s interpretation of the song lyrics. Despite the conservativeness, it cannot be denied that white American parents in the fifties urge to instil good upbringing and moral behaviour onto their children in order to preserve peace and harmony among the society. However, majority of Rock & Roll artists did not intend to advocate sexual immorality among white teenagers as claimed in media back then (Wallace, 2012, p.110), instead Rock & Roll was a platform that indirectly sparked teenagers to protest against the oppression of sexual liberalism. Late historian and professor Dr Alan Petigny stated that people did not being to have intercourses just because Elvis Presley was gyrating on stage or the famous American businessman Hugh Hefner turned out to be a playboy (Keen, 2005). Instead, Rock & Roll opened the door for white teenagers to have freedom  –   something the past generation did not have. Rock & Roll was a medium of expression and cultural rebellion for the teenagers to express their problems and discontent. One example is Gloria Mann’s 1955 song  A Teenage Prayer.  From its lyrics, it can be interpreted as a white American teenage girl during the fifties going through peer pressure, relationship problems, stress, and discontentment, and wished to have her problems heard as she adored a man who was the  perfect “guardian angel” for her ( Dulová, 2006, p.75). This girl is just an example to the millions of unheard voices during this period. However, Rock & Roll was able to appeal to these teenagers, relating to their bitter experiences and represent their unheard voices through music, despite the controversies against it (Doll, 2009). Therefore, in accordance to the key concepts of gender, sexuality, and culture, it can arguably be concluded that despite Rock & Roll may be seen as a genre of controversy and challenged the societal moral norms and promoting sexual behaviours and teenage rebellion, Rock & Roll paved the way to a more open-minded society whereby freedom of expressions, both sexuality and relationship, was embraced and heard. Teenagers no longer had to keep their problems behind the closet but instead being able to express all out. Teenagers started to gain confidence in their lives and in their relationship matters with their partners.
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