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Emma Liggins

In her study of the relationship between sex, gender, and social change

in Britain since 1880, Lesley Hall justifies her starting date by pointing

out that ‘recent historians of the nineteenth century have perceived a

definite change in sexual attitudes, and in ways of talking about and

dealing with sexual issues, around 1880’.1 She suggests that this marks

the beginnings of ‘certain ways of thinking about sex which are essentially

“modern”’. This special edition, which focuses on readings of

texts published from the 1870s to the late 1920s, examines these

‘modern’ ways of conceptualising sex in relation to the dangerous

figure of the sexually active woman and to female sexuality in general.

It takes its impetus from such recent developments in the historicizing

of sexuality that have designated the fin de siècle and early twentieth

century as particularly important for understanding the early formation

of ‘new’ female sexual identities. At this time the new science of

sexology, the development of psychoanalysis, the social purity movement,

the rise of the New Woman and the proliferation of more

sexually explicit texts all contributed to increased public debates about

the nature of female sexuality. As Frank Mort has argued, this was a

period when social purists and feminists increasingly felt compelled to

‘speak out about sex’ and ‘to confront the conspiracy of silence and

shame which surrounded the subject’,2 a confrontation which also took

place in New Woman fiction. Similarly, the writings and lectures of

key figures such as Sigmund Freud, Havelock Ellis, and Richard von

Krafft-Ebing ‘had begun to categorize different sexual behaviours and

identities’,3 their comments on both heterosexuality and inversion

having far-reaching ramifications on literary texts published in this

period. Representations of same-sex desire between women often

relied on these sexological and scientific ways of thinking about

female sexuality.

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Michael G. Cornelius

In the Nancy Drew mystery series, whenever the subject of marriage arises, Nancy interrupts the conversation or changes it altogether. Rather than discuss or confront issues of sexuality, Nancy forestalls any mention of marriage and the ensuing responsibilities (and identity shifts) that it—and mid-century womanhood in general—implies. Interruption, as both a conversational tactic and a social act, can be used by women to assert agency. Thus for Nancy, interruption is a means of holding off her impending womanhood and extending the enviable position she now maintains—that of girl sleuth.

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Abdessamad Dialmy

Arab scholarship of sexuality is currently emerging against many obstacles. This article provides a suggestive introduction to the current state of knowledge in the area. After briefly sketching an archetype of Arab sexuality, especially its peculiar form of phallocracy, new sexual trends are reviewed, some of which adapt current practices to Shari'a law (e.g., visitation marriages), while others break with it altogether (e.g., prostitution). The article then discusses three distinctive areas of public and policy concerns in the region, namely, honor killings, impotence and Viagra use, and sex-education programs that are precipitated by concerns over HIV/AIDS. The essay concludes with an assessment of some of the main challenges still facing research into the topic in the Arab Islamic world.

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Katherine Pratt Ewing

Terms of a Western discourse of homosexuality shape conflicts surrounding sexual identity that are faced by many Muslims, especially those who live in diasporic communities. Many use essentialized categories to articulate their sexual orientations and express incommensurabilities between their sexuality and their identities as Muslims. This article argues that discursive constructions of the Muslim as traditional other to the secular sexual subject of a modern democracy generate an uninhabitable subject position that sharply dichotomizes sexual orientations and Muslim family/religious orientations, a dichotomization that is reinforced by well-publicized backlashes against open homosexuality in several Muslim countries. Yet observations made during ethnographic field research in Pakistan, as well as scholarly evidence from other Muslim countries, suggest that many Muslims are less troubled by sex and desire in all their possible forms than they are by the peculiar modern practice of naming our sexualities as the basis for secular public identities.

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Tara MacDonald

Criticism on Dickens and Jewish characterisations most often focuses on the way that Fagin, in Dickens's Oliver Twist (1837), draws from a long history of anti-Semitic representations. No critics have offered sustained arguments that connect Uriah Heep with anti-Semitic stereotypes. By doing so, I hope to broaden our understanding of the ways that Dickens's novels interact with nineteenth-century racial discourses, as well as the ways that these racial discourses interact with economic and sexual anxieties. My reading does not simply place Uriah within historical racial discourses, but examines the impact of his characterisation within the narrative itself, with specific emphasis on David's narrative voice. Although David calls attention to Uriah's unruly body in order to mark it as different, this very difference becomes, in the process, captivating to him. David is attracted to Uriah's oozing, uncontained body, which dramatically diverges from the English masculine ideal. Uriah's body is also presented as sexually threatening, a sentiment that is most fully realised in the danger he presents to Agnes's virginity. Jews, and indeed other 'foreign' bodies, were frequently associated with deviant sexualities in Victorian England, and in David Copperfield, Uriah exemplifies the way that foreign bodies were marked as sexually aberrant.

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Homa Hoodfar

The role of sexuality in the construction of various social institutions and in the maintenance of power hierarchies has long been a significant focus of anthropological research (Leacock and Safa 1986; MacCormack and Strathern 1980; Wolkowitz et al. 1981). Indeed anthropologists and sociologists have been mindful of the extent to which sexuality constitutes a highly contested terrain that is tightly patrolled by religious forces, morality codes and state institutions in all societies (Gole 1996; Hélie and Hoodfar 2012; Lancaster and di Leonardo 1997; Lee 2011; White 2002). However, in recent decades, the fragmenting of sexuality studies into studies of gender roles, reproductive rights, sexual orientation, studies in masculinities, and even honour killing and violence against women, has resulted in depoliticising sexuality: without clearly linking the various aspects and arenas in which sexuality is salient, the centrality and complexity of politics of sexuality to power structures are easily lost. This fragmentation makes it harder for engaged citizens to mobilise for changes in policy and discourses around various aspects of sexuality. Thus, many scholars of the Middle East are adamant that the study of sexuality must adopt a holistic approach within the wider concerns of bodily rights, such that linkages between the various forms of sexual oppression, including those of sexual minorities, becomes clear. Hence the editorial board tried to be mindful of these concerns as they finalised the call for papers for this issue.

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Shirin Abdmolaei

Functioning as a socio-political resource and method of discipline and control over women's bodies and sexualities, mandatory Islamic dress in Iran has been a central feature of the Islamic Regime's policy towards women. Intended to stand as a symbolic discourse of women's social and sexual submissiveness and docility, those who resist dress codes are subjected to severe punishment as well as stigmatisation. Despite repercussions, increasing numbers of urban Iranian women are refashioning their public bodies in new styles and appearances to not only resist dress codes but to more importantly challenge the regime's patriarchal discourses regarding women. This article seeks to examine the politicisation of Iranian women's bodies and sexualities through the emergence of this innovating women's resistance movement termed 'alternative dress'.

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Erin K. Biebuyck

This article examines several sex manuals from Nicolae Ceauşescu’s Romania for the ideologically-infused sex norms they contain. These manuals constructed a sexual ideal that located pleasure in the marital couple rather than in the individual, defining ‘normal sexuality’ as heterosexual and privileging its collective significance as an act for reproduction over the experience of pleasure by an individual. This collective model of pleasure was key to the construction of the communist subject as a member of a collective rather than as an autonomous individual. While this collective subject had roots in Romanian pre-communist traditions, communist sex experts rejected conventional gender roles according to which women are subordinate to men. Subsequent comparisons with contemporaneous American sex manuals reveal that the Romanian communist discourse on pleasure differed significantly from that of popular American sex advice of the same period.

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Robert A. Nye

We might begin with a few comparative remarks about sex and politics in France and the US. Americans were treated in 1998 to a deliciously painful set of events that precipitated a full-scale constitutional crisis in the US and some rethinking of the relations of the public and private spheres. Despite what seemed to many French observers as a more or less unproblematic White House sex scandal, it was denied by American commentators left and right that Monicagate had anything at all to do with sex. It’s not about sex, said Clinton’s Republican accusers, it’s about lying under oath and the rule of law. It’s not about sex, said his Democrat defenders, it’s about his political enemies seizing any opportunity they can to undo two consecutive elections. Nor was the affair about sex for the principal actors: for Kenneth Starr, presidential sex was just a convenient way to set a legal trap for a slippery guy he couldn’t nail any other way; for Linda Tripp, it was the royal road to personal revenge; for Monica Lewinsky it was a chance to consort with a powerful man. It wasn’t even sex, as we have heard many times, for Bill Clinton himself, but something that never rose to the level of what New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd called “lying-down adult sex.” Even Hustler publisher and cinema free-speech hero Larry Flynt, whom no one would accuse of being dismissive of sexuality, treated sex in this whole matter as an opportunity to expose the hypocrisy of his political enemies.

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Elena Omelchenko

In this article I deal with interpretations of sexuality that are typical of Russian girls who are learning to become blue-collar or pink-collar professionals such as, for example, public health nurses, social workers, tourism and hospitality industry workers, fashion designers, and those training for employment in services like cooking, hairdressing, and tailoring. The empirical base of this article is a set of in-depth semi-structured interviews with young women and men concerning their individual sexual experiences. I examine scenarios of feminine subjectivity within the context of discussing a first sexual experience. I look, too, at how girls exercise girl-power within the framework of communication and intimacy with a partner.