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Thursday 30 June 2011

Another Stopes post on the Wellcome Library blog

Since one of my colleagues has just catalogued a copy of Marie Stopes's rather justly forgotten 1928 novel, Love's Creation (where was this when I was trying to write an article on the subject in the early 90s? - a friend had to provide me with a photocopy, which was not the most convenient way to read it), I have composed a post for the Wellcome Library blog on A lesser-known side of Marie Stopes. I must be one of the few people who's ever read this work, in fact I think I probably read it twice in the course of working on the article. Her gifts did not lie in the sphere of fiction.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Catching up on journal literature VIII

Stefan Slater, 'Pimps, Police and Filles de Joie: Foreign Prostitution in Interwar London', The London Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1, March 2007, 53–74: why did foreign, esp French, women come to London, particularly Soho for sex work? 'Frenchness' as titillating USP. Article uses records of the Metropolitan Police relating to foreign prostitution and the racket in arranged marriages by pimps, and also considers why this was a site for the expression of concern: Englishness/foreignness and prostitution. (A longstanding set of connections, from the 1850s stuff about French impures to the traffickers of today.)

T G Ashplant, 'Dis/connecting Whiteness. Biographical Perspectives on Race, Class, Masculinity and Sexuality in Britain, c. 1850-1930', L'homme 16 (2005), p. 68-85: useful about how ideas of the Other and playing with masquerade as the Other were about defining the hegemonic male identity: though the examples given are limited, and perhaps rather idiosyncratic figures, e.g. Munby, I think there's something there - the idea of the hegemonic male who can 'pass' and is a heroic figure rather than the masquerading subaltern trying to deceive... Complexity about the contrasts and dynamics.

Sam Pryke, 'The Boy Scouts and the "Girl Question" Sexualities 4 (2001), p. 191-211. Fears that associating with gurllzz was prematurely sexualising Edwardian/Georgian boys and leading them astray into unmanly ways. Very classed view of the appropriate and inappropriate young woman (cf Baden-Powell in Rovering to Success) . 'Walking out' as a bad habit if participant too young. Association with urban life and its problems. Not monolithic within the Scouting movement - some thought women (at least of the right kind) could be a good influence.

Stephen Brooke, 'Bodies, Sexuality and the "Modernization" of the British Working Classes, 1920s to 1960s' :International Labor and Working-Class History (2006), 69. Actually that is women's bodies, and he posits a change from the overburdened worn-out multiparous mother of interwar birth control movement rhetoric to a new healthier fitter woman with a smaller family and a companionate marriage  - although there were regional continuities with the older model of the oppressed victim working class wife. Possibly rather slides over except in a couple of paragraphs the agency of working class women between the wars (it really wasn't all middle class women with an agenda). New meanings of sexuality post-war? (Difference here between rhetoric/ideology and people's experience

Monday 27 June 2011

Catching up on journal literature VII

Carol Smart 'Reconsidering the Recent History of Child Sexual Abuse, 1910-1960' Journal of Social Policy 29 (2000), p. 55-73: v useful piece on this subject - a) it was not just the evil influence of psychoanalysis that militated against people realising the prevalence of child sexual abuse, the way the courts and the criminal justice system dealt with it was really very very problematic and was pretty much set into assumptions that children lie and that false accusations were rife and failing to take on board the trauma of court appearance for children etc (plus, incestuous fathers still had huge legal patriarchal powers) b) but feminist and social purity organisations and women doctors and a few concerned magistrates were already saying this in the 1920s - there was a 1920s Royal Commission on Sexual Offences Againt Young People
Ivan Crozier,'Rough Winds do Shake the Darling Buds of May. A Note on William Acton and the Sexuality of the (Male) Child', Journal of Family History 26 (2001), p. 411-420 : Acton and educating (warning/terrifying) the young boy as the best strategy against the evils of self-abuse.
Elizabeth Stephens,  'Pathologising Leaky Male Bodies: spermatorrhoea  in C19th British medicine and popular anatomical museums', Journal of the History of Sexuality  17 (2008), pp 421-438: excellent - points out that it was not just imposed by evil docs, men themselves bought into the pathologisation of the leaking oozing male body. Shift from anatomical museums to docs warning against 'quackery' at time of the Medical Act,  but still promoting spermatorrhoea as a disease entity. Wider discourse of problematic male sexuality  - suggests that the fearful secret was becoming like the femininised body, weak, feeble, excessive etc
Philip Howell, 'Sex and the City of Bachelors. Sporting Guidebooks and Urban Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Britain and America' Ecumene 8 (2001), p. 20-51: v good, about how to know the city, the city as male space, the need for knowingness and initiation, these guidebooks as aspirational texts (cf M Collins on Playboy etc) for wouldbe working/lower middle class 'swells' rather than actual men about town. Bachelor culture 'The city is/as woman/women' - desires and fears 
Katie Hindmarch-Watson, 'Lois Schwich, the Female Errand Boy. Narratives of Female Cross-Dressing in Late-Victorian London' GLQ. A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 14 (2008),pp 69-98: the different narratives in different places about Schwich, young woman of 20 who had masqueraded as an adolescent errand boy, found out largely through involvement in criminal activities (theft, and trying to incriminate other people) at work. Class, gender, issues, etc, questions of particular urban spaces. As a boy she was very much in the working class 'swell' mode of dress, also smoking etc. Paper points out that much of the historiography and stories of female cross-dressers involves criminality (which may just be because those are the cases that came to light???)
Pamela Cox,'Compulsion, Voluntarism, and Venereal Disease. Governing Sexual Health in England after the Contagious Diseases Acts' Journal of British Studies 46 (2007), p. 91-115: really useful piece about the means of compulsion outside actual practices of articulated governance employed upon various groups who didn't match the model of citizen capable of taking responsibility/being responsible for their own health - predominantly women/girls/children. The invisibility of these processes and the involvement of voluntary philanthropic bodies.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Catching up on journal literature VI

Matt Houblrook, '"The Man with the Powder Puff'" in interwar London', The Historical Journal 50, 1(2007) pp.145–171: useful stuff on changes about perceptions of men seeking sex with other men, in the light of wider changes to do with the increasing acceptability and respectability of women using cosmetics, and the role of material objects in policing practices.

Claire Langhamer, 'Adultery in post-war England', History Workshop Journal,  62, Autumn 2006, pp. 86-115: excellent stuff about the changing significance of adultery as marriage-breaking in tandem with the new companionate vision of marriage - i.e. physical fidelity becomes more important when the emphasis is on the emotional relationship rather than issues of good provider/good housekeeper etc. Also the idea that the ideal couple did everything together and shouldn't have separate interests - this intersected for me with Alison Oram's paper on our Berks panel and the citing of wife's over-involvement with female friends in cases of marriage breakup.

Derek Thompson,‘Courtship and marriage in Preston between the wars’, Oral History,3 (1975) (hand't seen this before: much-cited in various other things I looked at). Points for noting Mention of men being furtive buying condoms or going to pharmacy that was not local for them; importance of class and religion in socialisation and courtship; the different grades of dance-hall and 'monkey rack'; huge scandal of shotgun marriage plus the horror at unwed mothers (shame on family) etc
Helena Michie, 'Victorian Honeymoons. Sexual Reorientations and the "Sights" of Europe', Victorian Studies 43 (2001), p. 229-253: the rupture/rite de passage that the honeymoon was for both partners (entry to full adult masculine status for the male) and also for women (whole new identity and renaming) - poss leaning a bit hard on literary honeymoons (which she suggests may give a darker picture than the real thing!)

Charles Barker, 'Erotic Martyrdom. Kingsley's Sexuality Beyond Sex' Victorian Studies 44 (2002), p. 465-488 Wellcome non-electronic before 2006 :  interesting but question arises of how typical were Kingsley and Fanny exchanging their heated courtship letters (author makes nice analogy with phone sex)  
Christopher Matthews, 'Love at First Sight. The Velocity of Victorian Heterosexuality' Victorian Studies 46 (2004), p. 425-455: evicence from paintings and literary texts mostly, men as falling in love at first sight and that this is problematic (deceptive women).

Angela Cassidy, 'The (Sexual) Politics of Evolution. Popular Controversy in the Late 20th-Century United Kingdom' History of Psychology 10 (2007), p. 199-226 Interesting about the popular media interest in the revival of evolutionary psychology from 1990s, but it was also being reworked away from the standard conservative gender dynamics by feminists (to some extent - the pop narrative seems to me to be pretty much wedded to the conservative primeval savanna vision?)  

Martin J. Wiener 'The Sad Story of George Hall. Adultery, Murder and the Politics of Mercy in Mid-Victorian England', Social History 24 (1999),  p. 174-196: case which illuminated shifts c. 1860s in the acceptability of wife murder on provocation - in the Hall case large amounts of public sympathy (his wife had been carrying on with a lover with whom she had had a premarital relationship) vs increasing judicial desire not to let this kind of thing go - he was reprieved as often happened when case could be made for wife's provocation and husbandly innocence (e.g he was not abusive) but the law was tightening up around this time: in this case public pressure was heavily involved in grant of reprieve. Changing paradigms of manliness to a more caring one (rather than ownership & power) / general anti-violence tendencyat ht the period.

Thursday 23 June 2011

UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register 2011

On 23 May 2011 twenty items and collections became the second round of inscriptions to the UK Memory of the World Register
It is extremely gratifying to see important collections relating to women's history in this batch - not only Documentary Heritage of the Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain, 1865-1928 (joint project of the Women's Library and the Parliamentary Archives), but the diaries of Anne Lister (at West Yorkshire Archive Service) - and also the Edinburgh and Lothian HIV/AIDS Collections, 1983-2010 in Lothian Health Services Archives).

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Some recent research reading

Anthony Aldgate and James C Robertson, Censorship in Theatre and Cinema (2005). Useful in that it is more about the ongoing routine work of theatre and cinema censorship up to to the 1970s (not just on sexual grounds). The case studies it uses are of plays which were made into films (or which, after much to and froing, weren't, or in a very transmuted form) and the different concerns that arose (e.g. theatre as relatively elite venue vs cinema as having a more popular audience). Interesting on the minutiae of language and gesture with which censors concerned themselves.

Sarah F Green, Urban Amazons: Lesbian Feminism and Beyond in the Gender, Sexuality and Identity Battles of London (1997). Green was a participant observer anthropologist of a particular element within the London lesbian feminist scene of the 80s as Thatcherism began to bite. Raises issues of how far politics can be defined around sexual orientation and the problems that arose of definition around who could claim authentic identity. Covers the 'lesbian sex wars' of that period. Note that conflict points arose over wider issues of diversity and representation. Also, interesting on relationship styles - while the communal experiments of the 70s seem to have been pretty much over, there was emphasis on friendship and community and coupledom rather played down.

Monday 20 June 2011

Looking back at the Berks, before it all fades entirely

Panels I attended:

'The True Sex? cases of gender ambivalence and their impact in Europe'; four papers, one on the various later  redeployments of the tale of Phaethousa the bearded lady in the Hippocratic corpus; two on cases of 'hermaphroditism' in late C19th Denmark (covering some of the same material but with a different slant); the case of Lili Elbe and her (posthumously created) autobiography Man into Woman. This was a tightly run panel that worked well. Papers very much about how society uses stories of gender ambivalence for various purposes.

'Healthy babies, healthy families: generations of health care in South Asia': this also had four papers, but could have done with rather stricter moderation as the session ran out of time - it was already at time when the discussant started to comment. This was a pity, because they were all very interesting pieces in themselves: the politics of milk and infant welfare in early C20th Madras; reconstructing ideas of masculinity and fatherhood in late C19th Bengal; the role of A Pillay and the Bombay-published International Journal of Sexology within mid-C20th sexology; the time and place-specific nature of a post-Partition translation/version of the Kama Sutra


'Love, Desire, Community and Friendship: reconsidering female same-sex relationships in the early to mid C20th': this was the panel I organised and spoke on. I think it went well - the room was encouragingly full, we all kept to time, and there was good discussion. But what would I know.

'Leatherwomen's histories: international perspectives from academic and public historians': 'international' in this context actually meant the USA and Canada (and I think one of the participants had worked on curating materials in Mexico) - however, it was clear that there were distinctive differences in history and that the crisis points were not the same in these two close and fairly culturally similar milieux. Panel also shed some light on the development of communities which seemed of much wider application (from a small group looking outward, or defining itself against that larger world, to a larger but less cohesive, even riven, group). Also, issues of marginalisation of certain categories within already marginalised groups.

'Contesting the boundaries of Christian sexuality': unfortunately one panelist had dropped out (English Catholics, contraception and the response to Humanae Vitae), but the two that were left worked very well together - one on Mary Scharlieb and her emphasis on the importance of sex education in the context of social purity, and  the other on D Sherwin Bailey's elaborate theology of marriage produced at more or less precisely the mid-point of the C20th. V useful.


The Sunday morning sessions were all round-tables with precirculated papers. I hadn't actually managed to read any of the papers, but I went to the excellent and wide-ranging 'Motherhood and the State in the waning age of Empire', which covered a broad geographical range and raised a lot of exciting questions about mothering, invisible labour, the role of the state, NGOs, race, class, colonialism, ambivalence responses to apparently coercive and colonialising practices, the impact of wider global phenomena on policy, etc etc etc.

Friday 17 June 2011

O dear, why did I expect anything different?

Well, The Sex Researchers on Channel 4 last night pretty much did all the things I was assured they were not going to do when they approached me to do an interview and advise, in terms of being simplistic, sensationalistic, cliched, and condescending. Not to mention muddled and full of self-contradiction, heterosexist, male-gazey, and full of annoying little 'amusing' animations and comic reconstructions, busy-busy snippets from films of various periods, etc etc (which I suppose are all part of some belief that tv docs have to keep things moving all the time).

A detail-by-detail critique of its failures as history would be very long indeed, so I'll just mention two particular gruesomenesses.

They disseminated and perpetuated in a particularly crass and mangled-up form the canard about C19th doctors, hysteria, masturbating women and vibrators.

Condescension towards Virginia Johnson, who was surely one of a long line of women in numerous fields who found herself in the right place at the right time and thus enabled to fulfill the potential that women were largely supposed not to have and given no encouragement to develop (hello, it was the 50s - a lot of very intelligent and gifted women were being shunted off into the secretarial pool at that period). It's not as though there was a formal set of qualifications for anyone doing sex research at that time, man or woman.

I was also stunned that they could leap from Havelock Ellis to Masters & Johnson without mentioning anyone in the decades in between: not even Kinsey.

Maybe this is not much more embarrassing than finding my comments on Victorian prostitution, etc, intercut with live-action dramatisation of scenes from 'Walter''s My Secret Life. It still doesn't qualify as a high point in my career.

Thursday 16 June 2011

The Sex Researchers, Channel 4

A series of 3 programmes on The Sex Researchers is being broadcast on Channel 4: the first one tonight at 10 pm and the others in a week's and a fortnight's time. I recorded an interview for this but have no idea what, if anything, made the final cut.

Dr Petra Boynton (who was also interviewed for these programmes) reflects on the media depictions of sex research in her own blog and considers some of the problems and pitfalls for academic researchers in the area engaging with the media, as well as the possibilities.

Friday 10 June 2011

I'm at the Berks!

That is, the triennial Berkshire Conference on the History of Women: fifteenth this year, being held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. I have previously attended in 1996 (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), 2002 (University of Connecticut at Storrs), 2005 (The Claremont Colleges, CA), 2008 (University of Minnesota at Minneapolis).

So far I have attended my first panel, a rather envy-making panel by archivists from the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College on 'Teaching the Archives' and how they work with students to introduce them to the archives and how they are used and how valuable it is for users to be able to interact with an archivist.

While there is no doubt that latterly I seem to have been able to give more time to cataloguing, with consequent sense of achievement, I do feel that certain changes in workplace practice mean that the archivists no longer have routine contact with readers and that we lose valuable educational opportunities thereby, since there is no formal mechanism for user education apart from sessions arranged by specific tutors or course supervisors.

The development of online access to finding aids is a great boon, but for individuals unacquainted with the way archives work they may be something of a false friend, by detaching specific items from their embedded context within particular collections. And, as Maida Goodwin made a strong point of saying, archives are not like Google, you don't get a result by asking a specific question but by looking at the sources and being guided by them.

I am not sure how one gets round this. Interaction with users came through being involved in a number of routine operational tasks, and in many cases there was no real need for extensive interaction or guidance. Also, many users now get in touch in advance for advice. But there are still those who are perhaps floundering or missing sources that might be relevant. I do sometimes get the impression that students are not effectively briefed by tutors or supervisors about primary sources and the differences between them, and how to approach them.

Obviously, it is also important to make the holdings actually available by getting them catalogued, flagged in sources guides, noted in blog posts, etc. There are a number of repetitive queries that come up that really can be answered adequately by reference to a thematic guide or with a form response or simply by explaining how to use the online catalogue. But sometimes, particularly with novice users, a bit more is required. Not that novice users (or even quite experienced users) realise that this is desirable.

Besides attending this panel, I attended the opening reception and met various old acquaintances and made a few new ones.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Catching up on journal literature V

(Bless the e-reader and access to journal subscriptions that permit downloading of articles: boo to the constraints of the BL ILL system which won't enable this useful and ecologically sound way of reading articles).

Harry Cocks, 'Saucy Stories: Pornography, sexology, and the marketing of sexual knowledge in Britain, c. 1918-70' Social History, 29, 2004, pp. 465-484. Looking at issues of distribution and context and how these inflected the way seriously intended works of sexology were perceived. Perhaps doesn't give enough weight to the mid-term in this equation - the catchpenny hackwork of e.g. George Ryley Scott which mined the works of sexologists to produce popular works. Also, omits the Chesser Love without Fear case which is an interesting one, and about what should and shouldn't be in a book of reputable marital advice (I really must read the copy of the original first edition I got hold of!), and doesn't really consider the position of women and social purity in this. They were often pro sex advice - Maude Royden, as I recall, testified for Edward Charles' The Sexual Impulse and Letitia Fairfield for Love without Fear. More of a spectrum there perhaps. But it's a useful article and led me in context of these others to think about space and location and context. Also, class. I'm by no means persuaded that in UK context class is outmoded category in thinking about sexual attitudes.

Frank Mort, 'Striptease: the erotic female body and live sexual entertainment in midtwentieth London', Social History, 32, 2007, pp. 27-53. Not sure if this differs essentially from the chapter in Capital Offences, but it was useful to read in the context of these other articles, and think about space, location and specificity of situation. And things and place which (like the Windmill) are somehow an acceptable exception to normal moral policing. But not infinitely multipliable (uniqueness - e.g. the liminality of the Windmill's physical placing on the borders of Soho and legit theatreland. Interesting thought on the replacement of the street theatre of Soho prostitution after 1959 by 'private' clubs (cf also Houlbrook on the privatised bourgeois respectable homosexual of the 50s).

Matt Houlbrook, 'The Private World of Public Urinals in London, 1918-1957', The London Journal, 25, 2000, pp. 52-70; another look at place and different meanings ascribed to it, and the place of policing practices within the dynamic (bumping up arrest figures). Very useful.

James Hampshire, 'The politics of school sex education policy in England and Wales from the 1940s to the 1960s', Social History of Medicine 18, 2005, pp. 87-105. As I've written on this topic myself in a chapter published a year previously (which isn't mentioned), I was a bit underwhelmed by this - Hampshire hasn't apparently used the Cyril Bibby papers at Cambridge. Also, although I would concur that there was a significant disjunction between the medical support for sex education and apathy or worse from the educationalists, even when they expressed general sympathy with the notion, I think he goes too far in assuming that medical opinion was united and monolithic on the subject! What is useful is that he's looked at the NUT as well as the Department of Education. However, it all leads me to conclude that all the parties (before the 70s, anyway) were generally in favour of sex education, but they wanted someone else to do it, not them. I think this may be the explanation behind a lot of the conflicted tale of sex ed in the UK. Parents want teachers to do it, other people want parents to do it, etc etc.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Katharine Holden, The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-1960 (2007)

This is a thoroughly excellent study of the meanings of being unmarried and what it was like and the problems involved in reconstructing this fairly substantial category of the population from the sources.

It's very valuable on the different meanings ascribed to singleness in women and in men and on the relative lack of any discussion of the latter except in terms of 'gay bachelors' resisting marriage.

In terms of my recent work on my paper for the Berks on female relationships at approximately the same period (and looking at many of the same sources, and yes, wasn't Laura  Hutton rather remarkable?) I found her chapter on unmarried people (nearly all women) fostering or adopting (formally or informally) had significant resonances with the discussions of female friendship - that on the one hand it could be a valuable emotional substitute for the conventional satisfactions, but on the other there was the danger of emotional over-investment, possessiveness, domineering, etc. Also - some change over time - is seen as more potentially pathological in the post WWII era, which is also when there was shift in attitudes to unmarried mothers, from redemption through keeping the child and maternity to them being neurotic and unfit to mother and therefore the children should be adopted into 'normal' families.

Highly recommended: subtle and nuanced in its analysis, e.g. of the penalties and also the pleasures of being in a family carer role and how contextual those were.