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‘Gentlemen’ s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men’ by Peter Hegarty

‘Gentlemen’ s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men’ by Peter Hegarty

Author: John Erickson

October 13, 2013

Not many people may know about the disputes between Lewis Terman–a man who helped created the testing of intelligence– and legendary sex researcher Alfred Kinsey. From stories of their personal and professional lives to the development of their interactions over the course of their individual accomplishments, Terman and Kinsey’s lives are interlocking stories shaped by the relationship between sex and intelligence.

In Gentlemen’ s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men, Peter Hegarty seeks to join these two men’s lives together to show the influence of not only sex and sexuality on an individual’s personal and professional development but also how it may be directly linked to their intelligence.

Intrigued by his own curiosity during his time at Stanford University, Hegarty viewed Terman’s debate with Kinsey as a unique case study for which he could investigate the attributes of an individual’s sexuality and intelligence and the various ways they came to signify each other in the human sciences of the early twentieth century. In an attempt to re-discover the voices of Kinsey and Terman, Hegarty’s quest, as it often feels throughout the duration of the book, is to argue that the “forgotten small points between [Terman and Kinsey] provide[s] pivotal vantage points from which larger components of androcentric discourses linking sexuality and intellect might be glimpsed“ (12). Simply put, why not investigate the sexual, personal, and professional developments of two men responsible for signifying not only intellect and sex respectfully but also willing to critique each other in the leading publications of their time.

Hagerty’s book illustrates subjects that have long been ignored in the debate between intelligence and sex. From a chapter on the history of masturbation as a “problematic embodied relationship to the self and the emergence of a disembodied psychological science of measureable differences between other people” to the lack of attention to Kinsey’s findings about the rapid frequency in which adult men reported engaging in homosexual sex in his Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, Hagerty’s opus ranges in scope but never in trajectory (27). Gentlemen’s Disagreement succeeds because the author is capable of such a range as well as a steadfast focus on his two topics: Terman and Kinsey. Each chapter could standalone in an academic journal but flow together because of the aforementioned men.

Deeply invested in Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, Volume 1, Hagerty centralizes many of his main points as relational to the development of the history of sexuality and how scholars of the topic, much like his main counterpoint Kinsey, developed their own narratives of sex’s modernization in juxtaposition to their own sexual proclivities or a lack thereof. However, while Hagerty preoccupies himself and his main arguments with various numbers of Foucault’s theories in a way that mirrors our modern day celebrity fandom and one that I have not experienced since finishing David Halperin’s Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography, his analysis of Foucault forgets one of Foucault’s most important points: the panopticon.

Kinsey’s worked at showing the modern day sexual practices of men (and later women) in order to create a better understanding of the men who engaged in various sexual practices as well as how said practices are oftentimes defined as deviant and policed by some all-seeing normative force. The ultimate panopticon, in regards to Hagerty’s argument, aren’t the interactions between Terman and Kinsey but rather the very methods in which their sexualities, as well as their subjects, are dictated by social norms, symbolic of the all-seeing eye that mirrors Foucault’s panoptic structure.

While the scope of the panopticon may fall outside of Hagerty’s original aim, his book asks its readers to look for aspects of their own lives that may be enhanced from the interactions and life stories of Terman and Kinsey. Hagerty’s chapters are laid out to address specific topics but it is within the parts that are missing that further and push them into new academic and theoretical realms that only enhance his points rather than subtract from them. A student of psychology and an capable writer, Hagerty proves that he not only can delve into the intricacies of these complex arguments but also prove, through his book, that it is a fine science.



Gentlemen’ s Disagreement: Alfred Kinsey, Lewis Terman, and the Sexual Politics of Smart Men
By Peter Hegarty
University of  Chicago Press
Paperback, 9780226024448, 240 pp.
July 2013

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About: John Erickson

John Erickson is a Ph.D. Candidate in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. He holds a MA in Women’s Studies in Religion; an MA in Applied Women’s Studies; and a BA in Women’s Literature and Women’s Studies. The LGBTQ and women’s rights movements, masculinity studies, gender theory, and the utilization of technology in forming communities and creating new teaching methodologies influence his research interests. His work is inspired by the intersectionality of feminism, queer identity, LGBTQ history, and religious and sexual cultural rhetoric. He is a permanent contributor to blog Feminism and Religion and the Co-Chair of the Queer Studies in Religion section of the American Academy of Religion's Western Region, the only regional section of the American Academy of Religion that is dedicated to the exploration of queer studies in religion and other relevant fields in the nation. When he is not working on his dissertation, he can be found at West Hollywood City Hall where he works on policies and special events relating to women, gender, sexuality, and human rights issues that are sponsored or co-sponsored by the City of West Hollywood. He is the author of the blog From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter @JErickson85

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