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The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880-1930

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Sheila Jeffreys examines the activities of feminist campaigners around such issues as child abuse and prostitution and how these campaigns shaped social purity in the 1880s and 1890s. She demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was due largely to the p Sheila Jeffreys examines the activities of feminist campaigners around such issues as child abuse and prostitution and how these campaigns shaped social purity in the 1880s and 1890s. She demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was due largely to the promotion of a sexual ideology which was hostile to women’s independence. The circumstances about which she writes are frighteningly familiar in the present political climate.


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Sheila Jeffreys examines the activities of feminist campaigners around such issues as child abuse and prostitution and how these campaigns shaped social purity in the 1880s and 1890s. She demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was due largely to the p Sheila Jeffreys examines the activities of feminist campaigners around such issues as child abuse and prostitution and how these campaigns shaped social purity in the 1880s and 1890s. She demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was due largely to the promotion of a sexual ideology which was hostile to women’s independence. The circumstances about which she writes are frighteningly familiar in the present political climate.

30 review for The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880-1930

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jude

    Jeffreys takes on the pedigree of a pseudo-conflict that had long made me itch - the apparent tension between loving women and loving sex that is still fanning the a-historical rant contingent of the "pro-sex" discourse, was a thorn-in-the-side of some periods of second-wave feminism, is being addressed with much more nuance by the third, but that is rarely considered when assessing the first wave. Most of my formative feminist reading was done around the time of this book's publication - 1985 Jeffreys takes on the pedigree of a pseudo-conflict that had long made me itch - the apparent tension between loving women and loving sex that is still fanning the a-historical rant contingent of the "pro-sex" discourse, was a thorn-in-the-side of some periods of second-wave feminism, is being addressed with much more nuance by the third, but that is rarely considered when assessing the first wave. Most of my formative feminist reading was done around the time of this book's publication - 1985 - but I only stumbled across it recently second-hand. Apparently this is a "classic" - re-issued in 1997, but as always I wonder what the true fate of such passionate and essential work will be... from the jacket: Sheila Jeffreys examines the activities of feminist campaigners around such issues as child abuse and prostitution and how these campaigns shaped social purity in the 1880s and 1890s. She demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was due largely to the promotion of a sexual ideology which was hostile to women’s independence. The circumstances about which she writes are frighteningly familiar in the present political climate. For someone like me - bright enough to feel itchy, but not focused enough to pursue and explore, this book is one of those affirmations of the DUH we know is waiting in history if we are willing to look. The descriptions of court cases illuminating victorian - thru- the twenties court-approved attitudes towards & treatment of children & women are horrific in a whole new way. One of the ideas which had still not become common when Jeffreys was writing is the simple notion of "sex" including more than "sexual intercourse." That the "sexual freedom" advocated by Shaw, Ellis et al sounds so much like the "sexual revolution" of the 60's is no accident: for women it amounted to the freedom to be fucked. That this vision of "freedom" had survived nearly intact says a lot about the power of the definitions of both "sex" and "freedom" written into the western psyche during the era covered by this book. This is not ancient history, and could be recommended to those complacently comfortable with Time magazine letting them know when the revolutions are over, or confused and dismayed that some women still seem so angry: those probably just as likely to think that Obama spells the end of racism. But books like this have always been for the reality-based reader - who is hope enough.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alicia Fox

    I Love the Word Spinster Sheila Jeffreys is, I'm led to understand, a polarizing figure in modern debates on feminism and gender issues. So I'd meant to read her, and a book with spinster in the title sealed the deal. This book is essentially a history of how spinsters were viewed from 1880 to 1930 in England (and consequently most of the western world). In a nutshell, the number of spinsters grew in the late Victorian era, and crusaded for women's rights. A large part of this struggle was related I Love the Word Spinster Sheila Jeffreys is, I'm led to understand, a polarizing figure in modern debates on feminism and gender issues. So I'd meant to read her, and a book with spinster in the title sealed the deal. This book is essentially a history of how spinsters were viewed from 1880 to 1930 in England (and consequently most of the western world). In a nutshell, the number of spinsters grew in the late Victorian era, and crusaded for women's rights. A large part of this struggle was related to protecting women and girls from sexual exploitation. (Although Jeffreys doesn't go into this much, the spinster suffragettes sowed many of the seeds of their own destruction in their harsh treatment of heterosexual sex.) The backlash against this was the sexual revolution of the 1920s, which was a movement to convince women that boinking men was the only natural course of action to take, that sexually submitting themselves to men was the only true freedom, and that they'd otherwise end up dangerously frigid and neurotic. Whether or not one agrees with the author's conclusions, it's clear that she "knows her sh*t." Personally, I like reading a well-researched history like this because it makes me more critical of what I read/hear/see today. I feel I much better understand *radical* feminism's STFU stance on a lot of modern sexuality issues.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tobi

    "The Invention of the Frigid Woman" "The Invention of the Frigid Woman"

  4. 5 out of 5

    raina

    genius genius genius

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I was really excited to finally get my hands on The Spinster and Her Enemies. It covers a period of history and a subject that I've had a lot of trouble finding good sources on -- specifically, first wave feminism around sex and sexual crimes, rather than the campaign for the right to vote. It's a book that took me longer than the page count suggested it would -- it's very dense, and very academically written. It's also got some shaky editing, which I don't hold against it -- it's a niche subjec I was really excited to finally get my hands on The Spinster and Her Enemies. It covers a period of history and a subject that I've had a lot of trouble finding good sources on -- specifically, first wave feminism around sex and sexual crimes, rather than the campaign for the right to vote. It's a book that took me longer than the page count suggested it would -- it's very dense, and very academically written. It's also got some shaky editing, which I don't hold against it -- it's a niche subject, which was even more niche when it was published. It was guaranteed a small press from the start, and I'm glad it exists and that I was able to find a copy at an affordable price. It covers a few different feminist missions and many different groups. It's largely about the English feminist movement, but the American movement appears occasionally. It's also about the collapse of the feminist movement after World War One, and talks a bit about the factors that contributed to that.The topic of first wave feminism and sexuality is wider than I had expected when I picked up the book, and I'm really impressed at how much detail went into each section. I felt like it moved from being very history based to a bit more theory based as the book went on, which was fine for me. One of the most depressing things in a book full of depressing things (special shout-out to the guy whose defense for raping a seven year old was that she seduced him, and to the step-father who claimed not to know the age of his step-daughter so that he wasn't on the hook for the assault and the judge that prompted him to do so) was that the first wave feminists fought to get marital rape considered a crime and as of the writing of the book, in the '80s, it still wasn't. That really threw me into a bit of a spiral about how much this world hates women! I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of feminism, with these caveats: it's a bit sex essentialist (understandable, in my opinion, given the topic, time period covered and written in), and the editing is rough.

  6. 5 out of 5

    rosalind

    [02192020] reason stricken: sheila jeffreys is a terf. [02192020] reason stricken: sheila jeffreys is a terf.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Moth

    Excellent book, and vital to the understanding of the history of feminism. It aged extremely well and is arguably more pertinent now than at the time when it was written (if you need any more proof that history repeats itself, read this book).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nakia

  9. 5 out of 5

    Alison

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kristina

  11. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mo

  13. 5 out of 5

    Julyan

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ozy Frantz

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maria Izabel

  16. 4 out of 5

    Katelyn

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pat

  18. 4 out of 5

    Natasha

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pallavi Kansil

  20. 4 out of 5

    Terri Strange

  21. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lili

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ellie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Joy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Noits

  26. 4 out of 5

    Maude

  27. 4 out of 5

    James S.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  29. 4 out of 5

    Lyra

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anli

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