Presentation on theme: "Money, Sex and Power Week11 Victorian attitudes to sex."— Presentation transcript:
Money, Sex and Power Week11 Victorian attitudes to sex
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MSP Term 2 Still concerned with money, sex and power, and their interrelation Politics of Sex,Sex=sexuality= a domain of social life, including sexual activities, identities, sexual attitudes, and how they relate to the kinds of power people can exercise, within sexual relationships, in relation to sexuality, for instance in public life, as well as more generally.
New term for this term: Sex, Power, and Discourse Will have much more to say about the concept of discourse next week. For the moment--‘Discourse’: an accumulation of written and spoken knowledges. Play a big role in constructing the sexual identities and expectations about sex (pleasurable, dangerous, compulsory) for people of different social status (gender, class, racialised groups)
Victorian sexual attitudes Easiest to get a handle on this by beginning with the ways diverse sexual subjects, in the Victorian era– were understood. These constructions coincide with the major social divisions of the day—and legitimated them. Put into play by law, medicine, churches, press How these constructions shaped public debate about sexual morality and especially attitudes to and law on prostitution Victorian constructions form a backcloth to later constructions of male and female, classed and racialised, heterosexual and non-heterosexual sexual identities
Outline Context of the development of Victorian sexual morality Specific moralities constructed around key figures/ subjects: Middle and upper class men Middle class women Examples of the public debates shaped by these constructions: Moral purity campaigns for moral reform in the 1880s Legal treatment of prostitution
During the Victorian period sexuality became central to how the Victorians understood themselves and the social divisions between them. (Victorian era is period between when Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in 1839 to her death in 1901.)
Wider socioeconomic, political and ideological context of the development of Victorian sexual concerns Rapid social changes technological, rapidly rising population numbers, increasing separation between wealthy and poor and between residences of social classes Political fears- French Revolution, movements for universal (male )suffrage, Indian mutiny Deepening social divisions challenge/ felt to challenge national unity
Leads to anxiety obsession with need to control and need to regulate and discipline In the economic sphere of production Epitomised by schooling Rising power of medical profession –seek to control health and hygeine In the control of sexuality, possibly unconsciously a way to control (own) anxiety But- discipline falls more heavily on some than others- women rather than men, middle classes rather than working classes.
Two figures (subjects) that figure in this landscape Men of the upper and middle classes Unlimited sexual access to own wives and servants, prostitutes Their access legitimated by reference to natural and inevitable male sexual needs. Towards end of century new emphasis on idea of (white middle class) men of good character being able to exercise sexual self-control
Women of middle classes “Women” as a category are seen as lacking carnal desires. We can understand this in terms of Cott’s (1979) depiction of an ideology of women’s ‘passionlessness’. White middle-class women exemplify this, in contrast to perceptions of others---the unbridled lust of men; the idle and decorative (rather than industrious) aristocratic woman, degraded working class women, lascivious women and men of conquered peoples abroad
Origin of this view Lies in Evangelical sections and writings in the late eighteenth century, before Victorian era- this provides a vocabulary, and identifies naturally virtuous women as an appropriate moral force closer to God. It reverses the previous view of women as highly sexual temptresses (Eve).
Why was this view of women and sexuality attractive to many people? Not accepted, simply pretence? Women so psychologically repressed they genuinely didn’t feel desire? Social explanation: women’s ‘passionlessness’ served social interests -- of middle classes, not only men’s but women’s too. It wasn’t ‘invented’ for this purpose but was a convenient legitimation.
Why was the ideal so pervasive and attractive? It became central to the middle-class image of itself. Middle- class white women symbolise the nation, its purity and superiority over other classes and peoples. As mothers women need to be ‘pure’. Men of middle class want to insure/assume that children are their own. Also reassures that girls are tractable, can be married off in the family’s class interest. So it works in bourgeois class interests, men’s interest– and also the class interests of the middle class family as a whole, including its womenfolk. In fact the ascendant middle class comes to define its superiority in terms of the sexual purity of its womenfolk- it legitmates its status as the new leaders of the nation replacing the aristocracy. Part of formation of middle class class identity.
Middle-class women ‘embrace’ ideology of passionlessness (Cott) This ideology could also have been attractive to middle class women themselves, and perceived to be in their self-interest. Cott says that they ‘embraced’ the idea themselves because it gave them moral power (the only kind of power available to middle-class women at the time). Gave them the right to refuse sex, in private life. It gave them a public voice, morality was something they were specially suited to pronounce on. Finds its keenest expression in the moral purity campaigns of the 1880s- which seek to stamp out ‘vice’ and debauchery, including drinking, dance halls, child sexual abuse- things that were perceived to degrade the nation as well as women and children. Women can speak out in public, lead organisations, etc. Results in law reforms, including age of consent for girls in the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885
Construction of women’s ‘natural’ passionlessness/ purity related to perceptions of / law on prostitution
Key pieces of legislation 1824 Vagrancy Act Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) Cantonment Act 1864 Indian Contagious Diseases Act 1868 Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885
Vagrancy Act 1824 ‘... prostitutes and beggars shall be deemed idle and disorderly persons and may be imprisoned for one month with hard labour’. ‘... every common prostitute wandering in the public streets... and behaving in a riotous or indecent manner... shall be deemed an idle and disorderly person.’ (from Nead, Myths of Sexuality p. 115) The crime here is being idle, being a nuisance, prostitution is not being seen as specifically a sexual crime or issue.
Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866, 1869) intended to check the spread of venereal disease among armed forces Succession of CD Acts modify and widen scope of first. Acts intended to protect the armed forces against sexually transmitted diseases, venereal diseases. The Acts enabled women, defined as prostitutes by the police, to be subject to truly draconian measures--an immodest and painful internal vaginal examination by a police doctor, to check for VD, and then to be imprisoned in a lock hospital until ‘cured’. Once released had to register and be checked periodically. Men of the armed forces -soldiers and sailors- not examined nor forced into treatment. At first covers only garrison towns and ports, it was the threat to widen to all towns and cities which sparked the repeal movement. Draconian measures threaten civil rights of working class women all over England and Wales, as identification as a common prostitute by police the only evidence required. Then also extended to the British colonies, including India.
Constructions and values reproduced or put into place Law rests on and reproduces gendered constructs. Penalizes and stigmatises women whose sexuality was seen as autonomous and corrupting, and which challenged the norms of bourgeois female sexual passionlessness and dependence. Women’s civil rights now depend on their sexual propriety, but not men’s.
Women are the source of venereal disease, they spread it to men (the reverse rendered invisible). Their moral corruption is mirrored by (shown by) their diseased state. Unnatural because autonomous in displaying an independent sexuality, not ‘passionless’. Moreover, sexual impropriety shows in the body, police imagined to be able to recognise a common prostitute on sight. Men are acting naturally (seeking sexual outlets), and even if ideally men should be able to control themselves the ordinary working class soldier or sailor not expected to be able to. Cannot subject men fighting for their country to genital examination.
By the end of the 1860s early feminists and others mounted the successful ‘repeal movement’, led by Josephine Butler, arguing that the Contagious Diseases Acts sanctioned male lust, and the examinations insulted women’s modesty. Acts suspended and then repealed, but had already succeeded in circulating a particular view of ‘prostitutes’ as a type of woman, different in nature from other women.
Conclusions: What should we take from this history? A lot hinged on women’s sexual rectitude/ respectability: --The legitimacy of the middle class as new ruling class of the nation --Women’s civil rights, which now depend on their sexual propriety-- but men’s do not. --Gives women’s voice and power in public affairs --Legitimate right of women to refuse men’s advances So not surprising that challenges to equation of women and sexual propriety are so contentious- even for women.
Other references Besides Reading List: C.Wolkowitz (2006) Bodies at Work, London: Sage pp L. Nead (1988) Myths of Sexuality Oxford: Blackwell. Chapter on prostitution