Photo by Craig LaCourt, illustration by Johansen Peralta
Jul 26, 2021
Amy Sohn and ‘The Man Who Hated Women’
Sohn discusses her new work of narrative non-fiction, about Victorian scold Anthony Comstock and eight radical women who fought back
Amy Sohn is the New York Times–bestselling author of several novels, including “Prospect Park West,” set in Brooklyn. A native New Yorker, she cut her teeth writing the confessional dating column “Female Trouble” for the New York Press starting in the 1996.
“I’m always interested in issues around women’s identity, sexuality and pleasure and relationships between women and men,” says Sohn, who is this week’s guest on “Brooklyn Magazine: The Podcast.”
Sohn joins us to discuss her first book of narrative non-fiction, which explores a fascinating moment in history. The title is a doozy: “The Man Who Hated Women: Sex, Censorship, and Civil Liberties in the Gilded Age” And title woman-hater is Anthony Comstock, an anti-vice activist and U.S. Postal Inspector behind the Comstock Law, passed in 1873, which penalized the mailing of contraception (and information about contraception) with long sentences and steep fines.
But it’s the women in the book—eight remarkable, forward-thinking sex radicals—who are the heroes here.
“They were stirring the pot. They weren’t writing sexual autobiography always, but some of them were,” Sohn says. “The ones I was really interested in were the women that I would have wanted to be friends with, which were these kind of radical free-thinkers and free-lovers who were publishing crazy things in the radical press.”
All eight were charged with violating state and federal Comstock laws before 1915, and all eight stridently fought Comstockery (the shorthand given to the man’s vindictively Victorian proclivities), risking imprisonment and even death as they charted new ways of understanding birth control access as a civil liberty.
The saying goes that every new generation thinks they invented sex. But this trip to the Gilded Age includes visits with phallic worship, free love, male continence and open relationships. Oh, and a sexy ghost husband. Listen to the podcast for all of that and more.
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