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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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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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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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Elizabeth Bullen

The sexualization of the female body in contemporary media has created considerable anxiety about its impact on girls. Much of the resulting research focuses on the influence of visual media on body image and the flow-on effects for girls' health. Rather less attention is paid to the pedagogical role of popular romance fiction in teaching girls about their sexuality. Given the pronounced increase in eroticized fiction for girls over the past decade, this is a significant oversight. This article applies Hakim's (2010) concept of erotic capital to two chick lit novels for girls. The elements of erotic capital—assets additional to economic, cultural and social capital—are used to explore the lessons these novels teach about girl sexual subjectivities and sociality in a sexualized culture.

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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.