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01Dec2017

MEN AND EDWARDIAN PURITY CAMPAIGNS

Part of my project on men in feminism considers when men and women can work together on political campaigns, and when they can’t. edwardian purity campaigns provide an interesting case study, because they offer examples of both.  Purity campaigning was concerned, among other things, with male sexual behaviour, and the problems it created, such as prostitution, sexually transmitted disease, fornication (sex outside marriage), indecent publications, public immorality, the feebleness of the police and the courts in handling cases of sexual violence and exploitation. Shortly before the First World War, some militant women suffragists made denunication of men’s sexual irresponsibility part of their campaign for the vote. ‘Votes for women’ and ‘chastity for men’ became linked demands.

It’s intriguing therefore that, alongside the women’s campaigns, there were also men’s campaigns for chastity; and more intriguing still that the men’s and women’s campaigns hardly ever mentioned each other. Why did movements of men and women, aimed ostensibly at the same goal of male chastity, feel obliged to work apart?  And why, in contrast, did men and women manage to work together on other campaigns, such as the agitation in 1912 to induce Parliament and Government to pass a new bill concerning sexual offences?

I think the explanation lies in a distinction between campaigns which are (1) disjoint (the campaigners aim to reform others), (2) conjoint (they aim to reform each other) and (3) reflexive (each aims to reform himself or herself).   This, I hypothesize, explains what sorts of coalitions and alliances the campaigners can make.   In the chapter I contrast an example of disjoint campaigning to punish others – the ‘white slave’ legislation (the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1912) – with the conjoint work that men do to and for each other in the male purity campaigns such as the Alliance of Honour.  I also look at the reflexive work that individuals do on themselves, by focusing on a single individual  – the Liberal minister Charles Masterman – who was centrally involved in disjoint and conjoint campaigning for male purity, directed at others he didn’t know and others he did; but whose own purity also comes into question.  I use these examples to start to develop my ideas concerning acknowledgment: the complex ways that ‘the personal’ has to be taken into account in a politics of the personal.

EDWARD BURNE-JONES, THE ARMING AND DEPARTURE OF THE KNIGHTS (WOOL AND SILK ON COTTON WARP, WOVEN BY WILLIAM MORRIS & CO., 1895-96) (DETAIL), BIRMINGHAM MUSEUM AND ART GALLERY.