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Sexuality and Society Week 3 Moral Purity. Key questions What is moral purity? Who were the late nineteenth century purity campaigners, how were they.

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Presentation on theme: "Sexuality and Society Week 3 Moral Purity. Key questions What is moral purity? Who were the late nineteenth century purity campaigners, how were they."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sexuality and Society Week 3 Moral Purity

2 Key questions What is moral purity? Who were the late nineteenth century purity campaigners, how were they organised, what were their strategies? What were the motivations and impact of the purity campaign for raising the age of consent for girls? How should we understand the discourse of moral purity which was put into play? What concept of sexuality did it rest on, and perpetuate? To what extent is the purity discourse still important to the politics of sexuality in the US or the UK?

3 Late nineteenth century purity movement a collection of campaigns and organizations created by ‘moral entrepreneurs’ (Mort) which reached their zenith in the 1880s. Included clergymen,prominent liberals, journalists, respectable working class men, including trades unionists, women’s groups determined to ensure that England was a place of moral and sexual purity, by stamping out ‘vice’ and ‘debauchery’ Included ‘crusades’ against drink, gambling, brothels, music halls, threats to probity and clean living

4 Social Purity Alliance includes leagues such as White Cross Army For instance in 1882 men asked to sign pledge cards promising to 1.To treat all women with respect, and to endeavor to defend them from wrong. 2. To endeavor to put down all indecent language and jests. 3.To maintain the law of purity as equally binding on men as women 4.To endeavor to spread these principles among my companions, and to try and help my younger brothers. 5.To use every possible means to fulfill the command, ‘Keep THYSELF pure’. Pledge quoted directly by S. Jeffreys (1985) The Spinster and her Enemies, London: Pandora

5 Sexuality an important target for social reform See sexuality as the “Beast’ destroying home life, etc. Perceive need to strengthen people against temptation Challenge men to transform their sexual behavior (inaugurate a single standard of sexual morality. In context of the time sexuality equated with male lust, since normal women seen to have no independent promptings in that direction. Women play central role as ‘moral guardians’ because less easily tempted into evil doings than men; But there is a central contradiction: Young women need protection from men, but there is also a suspicion that the ‘fallen woman’ has failed to protect her moral virtue, allowed man to be tempted, therefore she is in need of reform/ instruction and can even be punished for her fall. May seek to remove her from public life until she reforms..

6 Campaign against exploitation of children led to passage of Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 1885 Raises age of consent for girls from 13 to 16 Criminalised brothel-keeping Labouchère Amendment, made all sexual acts between men a criminal offense

7 Campaign for passage of Act Drew support from different factions of purity that rarely worked together No only campaign, drew from vocabulary of the time (e.g. reports of Jack the Ripper) Seen as a way of ending the ‘white slave trade’

8 Why was there so much interest in raising the age of consent for girls? Changing concept of the child from small adult to innocent in need of protection, e.g. factory legislation Drew support from different factions of purity that rarely worked together Stimulated by a moral panic

9 Previous age of consent legislation thirteenth century through 1875, age of consent for girls is 12 Intended to protect girls and their parents from fortune hunters, not working class girls When raised to 13 in 1875 argued for in terms of protecting property from fortune hunters who might seek to seduce girls.

10 Cause celebre of early 1880s Exposé concerning brothel owned by a Mrs Jeffries in Chelsea Worries about the ‘white slave trade’ excited by W.H.Stead’s newspaper series of articles ‘The Tribute of Modern Babylon’, showing girls being sacrificed to men’s lusts

11 Huge campaign stimulated by these events analysed by Weeks in terms of concept of ‘moral panic’ Concept of ‘moral panic’ coined by Stanley Cohen in book on social alarm about juvenile delinquency, developed further by Stuart Hall re ‘mugging’ Idea is that wider social anxieties manipulated by media which whip up a moral frenzy and demands for legislation Solutions often don’t solve the problem, but do lead, initially, to relief the problem being dealt with In case of age of consent for girls, constructed image of unscrupulous monstrous men and passive girl victims. Act did not effectively protect girls, rather sexually active girls are deemed incorrigible. Easier to penalise these young girls than men anyway, punitive measures against girls breaking the law justified because they have allowed men to take advantage of the, for being corruptible rather than virtuous. Have not reigned themselves in, have allowed men to be tempted. Girls taken into rescue homes, to be reformed under punitive measures, trained in domestic service so could live in middle class home where can be subjected to housewife’s surveillance, ‘for her own good”.

12 Clauses of the final legislation Raises age of consent for girls to 16- arbitrary An MP take advantage of the moment to insert Labouchère Amendment criminalising all sexual activity between males - also perceives (dangerous) men as the problem, to other, younger men as well as women and girls.

13 Significance of the 1885 Act Challenge to the double standard, challenges men’s right to indulge their ‘natural’ lust with working class girls. But also reproduces picture of girls as (sexually innocent) passive victims needing protection from men State increasingly legitimated in its power to intervene in private life Legitimated through moral panic, media campaigns on sexuality repeated many times later

14 How evaluate 1885 Act, and the discourse that lies behind it, for us today? Is it progressive? (1) Revival of purity movements promoting abstinence for young people (Silver Ring. Virgin Daughters). To what extent do they replicate the punitive discourse and sanctions of late nineteenth century UK (and US)? In terms of E.g. in terms of the origins of discourse, its concept of sexuality [“the Beast”], assumptions about male and female sexuality, modes of enforcement of purity, empowerment or protection as goals, etc. Why is sexuality seem as so frightening?

15 (2) Re feminist discourses posing male sexuality as a danger to women and girls J. Weeks and F. Mort reject 19th century purity movements entirely-- did not succeed in protecting girls, merely anti-sex prudery S. Jeffreys (Spinster and her Enemies) in term rejects their view. She emphases instead what she sees as the underlying feminist agenda- protect girls from men. Why is protecting girls from men misrecognised as prudery?

16 But still other feminists reject this view too: Bland- not a question of motives of purists, in context of gender and class politics of 19th century only way they could imagine to protect girls was through sexually repressive measures. Walkowitz, Hunt- posing sex as a danger (rather than a pleasure) wrong emphasis for feminists. Key question is how to protect girls from sexual exploitation, not sex. Do some feminists seeking to abolish prostitution or eliminate pornography sound suspiciously similar to the purity feminists of the 19th century, with their emphasis on sex as a danger, rather than sex as pleasure?

17 (3) More recent age of consent legislation Debate on age of consent legislation does not end in 19th century: (a) once homosexual activity is decriminalised in 1967, need to establish an age of consent for sex between males. On what grounds will this be decided? Here again constructions of sexuality and sexual danger appear in the debate. (b) 2003 Sexual Offenses Act- makes all sexual activity between young people under 16 a legal offense (M. Waite (2005) The Age of Consent: Young People. Sexuality and Citizenship

18 Implications of this history for current politics around sexuality and legislation on sexuality Is moral purity still a powerful or effective discourse in contemporary debate? To what extent do contemporary campaigns for abstinence resemble nineteenth century moral purity constructions? How are they different? Are (all) people who oppose sexual activity among young people really just prudes? Or do they just get labelled as such to discredit them? Should there be laws prohibiting ‘sex’ for ‘underage’ persons? At what age? How would you justify them? What assumptions about male and female, straight and gay sexualities underpin such laws? Are there more progressive ways to protect and empower young people?


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