This essay argues for the existence of a vernacular psychology in the United States centered on understandings of the body, gender, and sexuality. This was not pop psychology, which we might think of as a product of mass culture, but a complex amalgam of such influences as psychoanalysis, religion, ethics, and self-help that took shape in the first decades of the twentieth century. Analyzing a selection of sexological interviews of 295 women conducted in the 1930s, this article uncovers a childhood concept of gender that may be called “affinity”: a delight in the similarities of sexed bodies alongside conscious acknowledgment of difference, an area of play in which two sexes could become one. Rendered visible by the vernacular psychology of the 1930s, affinity played an important role in the interviews given by self-described tomboys born between 1900 and 1920. Even when they knew about gross anatomical differences, tomboys had so much in common with their boy comrades that they were able to shrug off distinctions not only of gender but of sex as well. Paradoxically, even though vernacular psychology made it possible for tomboys to describe affinity, it did not embrace affinity as normal.
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Allison Miller; Am I Normal? American Vernacular Psychology and the Tomboy Body, 1900–1940. Representations 1 May 2013; 122 (1): 23–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rep.2013.122.1.23
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