I’m surprised this hasn’t made the rounds of the blogosphere, so I’ll have at it. In last month’s American Prospect, Dana Goldstein reviewed a new biography of Masters and Johnson, Masters of Sex by Thomas Maier. She buried this gem in the middle of her review. Since we at Kittywampus are less circumspect, here’s the money quote:
Masters, known as cold and businesslike, relied almost totally on the attractive, effervescent Johnson to interact with volunteers. When he divorced his wife in 1971 to marry his longtime business partner, the media portrayed the pairing as a real romance, proof that there could be no sex without love. The truth of the Masters-Johnson partnership, however, was far more sordid. By Johnson’s own account, and that of friends and colleagues, Masters hired the divorced mother of two under the implicit understanding that she would become his sexual partner — for the purposes of research, Masters claimed. “Sex for Virginia Johnson would become part of her job,” Maier writes matter-of-factly. And indeed, Johnson told Maier herself in an interview, “No — I was not comfortable with it, particularly. I didn’t want him at all, and had no interest in him.” Johnson engaged in sex with Masters, she claimed decades later, because as a single-mother, “I had a job and I wanted it.”
(My emphasis. Read the rest of Dana Goldstein’s excellent review here.)
Of course, when Masters hired Johnson in 1957, Catharine MacKinnon was still in grade school. No one had dreamed up a name for sexual harassment, though it occurred commonly, and women certainly knew it was wrong when they experienced it. And yes, sexual harassment is the right word for what Masters imposed on Johnson. She very clearly states that she had no interest in him. She was living a hardscrabble life as a single mother, and her other options appeared worse.
This is the couple whose work overturned the oppressive Freudian conceit of the vaginal orgasm as essential to mature femininity. They proved that clitoral and vaginal orgasms didn’t differ, physiologically. How ironic that this liberatory insight flowed from a partnership that began as sexual exploitation.