Politically Correct Romance?

Our romantic and sexual practices are some of the most heavily policed aspects of our social lives (shoutout to Foucault for totally shifting my understanding of social interaction forever). We remember 1950’s America as a socially conservative time, and what better way to control the urges of youth than through heavily propagandized comic series?

The rise of the Romance Comic came to be as the Comics Code worked to censor violence and any controversial topics in comic books (such as women with the liberty to make their own decisions and reject patriarchal norms).  They then ensured that the safest, most traditional (read: patriarchal) views were presented with the least subtlety they could muster, inserting narrators that blatantly pointed out what Becky or Lisa was doing with boys that was misleading, harmful, and un-lady like.

How I wish the writers of these texts could swipe through Tinder today! Check out these juxtapositions, and make sure you read the tag-lines on the covers:

romancecomics1

Girl’s Love: I was losing Alan because I’d been too quick to reveal my love for him. But how could I silence my… “Reckless Heart!”

romancecomics2

First Romance: Love taught me a lesson; My heart was unfaithful; I was a ballerina without love

romancecomics3

Girl’s Love: “What Good is this crown to me now? She’s won the real prize!”

Because of the political era these comics stem from, the racial politics of these covers need mentioning due to their representation of white women only. It appears on the left that white women can fight and be dominant over men of other races, while white men still have great control over the representations of white women on the right.

Intersectionality politics are crucial to every art analysis, and the lack of representation in this era speaks volumes to what is represented. A step backwards for white women’s liberation due to the restrictions of the Comics Code is not without gendered and racial context. 

All comics are from the Center for Humanities Comics Collection at the Dowd Modern Graphic History Library. Please contact us for an appointment if you would like to view items from the collection.

About the author

Laken Sylvander is an undergraduate pursuing degrees in Women, Gender & Sexuality Studies and French as a member of the class of 2017.