My family moved to Wakefield from Bennington in 1945, the summer I turned thirteen. They were both great little rural towns in Kansas, beautifully located fifteen miles from the nearest community with over five hundred people. I had little sexual identity at the time, but believed there must be quite interesting differences between the genders. I think I wanted to acquire my gender role as soon as possible so I could fully appreciate those differences. There were attractive girls everywhere, yet I seemed to know very little about them. This is a critical developmental period in the life of an adolescent boy. Assuming that you pass through this development normally, you emerge on the other side a fully prepared adult male. So much for the theory!
To help me in this effort, few resources were available to help. There was no educational television. In fact there was no television at all. There was no sex education in the schools, and radio provided no pictures. I really wanted some pictures. Radio was full of soap operas for the girls. They may have provided sex-role guidance for those who listened. The boys I knew didn’t listen to these programs. On Saturday night in the summers we all went to 10-cent movies in the town park after dark. The movies were mostly shoot-em-up westerns featuring a hundred cowboys, a hundred horses, and one girl who appeared only at the end. It was a strange scene. Whenever an adult couple went into a room and closed the door behind them, the camera was always left outside the door. The older adolescent males would hoot and holler, like they knew what was going to happen. If it happened, you never saw it on the screen, and could only imagine what came next. There was not much instruction for the boys. In the small towns, we were left essentially to our own devices.
One resource in all towns was the older boys. I was told that a properly endowed woman with two tassels of the proper weight and length, could perform almost magic tricks. One feat was to make the tassels rotate, like propellers, in opposite directions. The perfect finale to one of these performances was when she would secretly select one of her patrons. With tassels revolving in opposite directions, and the proper timing, a really accomplished performer could tie a noose with the tassels around the unsuspecting patron’s neck. Even when the tassels did not tie behind his neck, it really didn’t matter. I just wanted to be selected. If at first she didn’t succeed, she could try, try again.
Another resource, which was better than pictures, was the county fair. It came only once a year, but always included a tent with a girlie show. It was not heavily advertised, as this was contrary to prevailing standards. My first unobstructed view of an adult female was offered in one of these tents. There was a barker outside who displayed a finely clad lady, elevated well above the crowd. His public line addressed our interest in seeing such a fine lady in all her glory. First you had to stand in line to pay admission. I was embarrassed just standing in line, and rarely had money for such frivolous activities. After paying you were ushered into a room in the tent with benches on the ground. As soon as the benches were full of paying customers, the M.C. would enter to whet your appetite, and monitor the drooling patrons. Two or three girls would enter the tent fully clothed, and would parade back and forth on an elevated walkway to the accompaniment of belly-dancing music. One by one they would remove their outer-garments, revealing the one-piece bathing suits worn below. This process showed about the same amount of skin you could see at the municipal swimming pools at the time. Small towns didn’t have swimming pools.
Then quite abruptly, the M.C. would give the girls a sign. They gathered up their things and ducked back into a remote room in the tent. With this opening scene, the M.C. asked about our willingness to see more. We hadn’t seen anything yet, and agreed that more for our money would be appreciated. I was expecting the girls to return to the small arena adorned in only tassels and G-strings. The music changed to something slow and seductive, while we were told it would require an additional admission before the girls would provide a more revealing glimpse of their curves. I was short of money, but decided to dig down and cough up the added fare. We waited again while monitors collected the additional money, and the girls got ready. One by one they returned to the small runway fully clad. Their outer garments, which they removed as slowly as possible, covered two-piece bikini-style swimming suits. They were an eyebrow-raising novelty, and would never be displayed openly in public except in California. It was a fine show at the time, and was greatly enhanced by the music. It did little for my education. But wait, – it was not over.
One by one the girls ran back into the dark recesses of the tent as the music changed once again. The M.C. asked a third time if we were interested in seeing more. By this time, I was suspicious that the M.C. had no interest in furthering my sex education. All was not lost, however, as he said we could see it all for an additional fee. For one dollar, the price of 20 Coca Colas or ten gallons of gas, each of us would be granted entry to a special showing in one of the back rooms in the tent. There the girls would give us our money’s worth. That’s what he said. This was the third admission for what had been billed as a girlie show. While one of the girls would certainly be worth all of a dollar, I had no idea how many rooms there might be in the tent, or how many other admissions might be required to see it all. I opted to spend my scarce money on more reliable things, and walked out of the tent. Only the older boys with more money went the added mile. They assured me afterward there were, indeed, many rooms in the tent. I was thirteen at the time, and really had no business seeing it all, but that didn’t satisfy the urge. I was itching to see the tassel trick.
County fairs did little more than whet your appetite. As they come only once a year, at their pace, it would take several hundred years and several thousand dollars to obtain a well rounded education. National Geographic was the reliable textbook for the small town boy’s basic sex education, and provided the fundamental grounding in gender roles for adolescent males. It was always available. It covered, or uncovered many of the more interesting features I was looking for at the county fair. The key was to find the most interesting issues from a tall stack of National Geographics. They were often missing.
On finding a good issue, the models were always brown or black, as most displayed the cultures of Africa or Somalia. With a camera present, they had no problem baring it all, and they did so with no walkway, no top cover, no admission, and no tassels or g-strings. Without pretense, they revealed nature’s bounty as they engaged in all the ordinary activities of daily living. On one occasion, the magazine added a footnote as an apology to our prudish audience. Knowing the native women would all be topless, the camera crew provided t-shirts for all the women to wear in the photographs. With this cover, they could hide the very features that attracted me to the magazine. Then they included a picture of a native woman who had cut two holes in her t-shirt, allowing each breast to protrude, – quite nicely. She was my kind of woman sporting an innovation clearly more interesting than the wet t-shirt contestants who emerged several decades later.
One lesson from this developmental experience is quite simple. What we used to pay good money to see once a year, you can now see for free, any day, every day on TV, at the local mall, or on the streets of our cities. Even the small towns are nicely equipped to provide well-rounded exposures for our 13-year-old adolescent boys.