The Spinster and Her Enemies by Sheila Jeffreys

By Sheila Jeffreys

This feminist textual content is published right here with a revised and up-to-date advent. It examines the actions of feminist campaigners round such concerns as baby abuse and prostitution and the way those campaigns formed social purity within the Eighteen Eighties and Nineties. It demonstrates how the thriving and militant feminism of the past due nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was once undermined, and asserts that the decline of this feminism was once due principally to the promoting of a sexual ideology which used to be adverse to women's independence.

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The internationalism of feminist social purity workers shows that the crusade to eliminate the double standard was constantly cross-fertilised by ideas from women in other countries. In particular whatever we find happening in Britain is likely to be reflected in events in the United States and vice versa. Delegates from the Moral Reform Union were invited to international conferences such as the 1891 International Congress of Women in Chicago. The internationalism is demonstrated by the fact that the woman who was due to represent the Union was unable to attend and Frau Fischer-Lette of Berlin went on behalf of the 22 FEMINISM AND SOCIAL PURITY Union instead and stayed on for the World’s Congress on Social Purity.

She thought that men needed help in self-control and that would be best given by men banding together to help each other. 16 Hopkins, though she was herself a strong and independent, lifelong spinster, expressed herself in terms of the Victorian ideals of wifehood and motherhood. The significance of her contribution lay not so much in her ideas on woman’s role as in her plans for men’s role. She was a woman directing men’s behaviour in the interests of defending women. She was not the originator of the idea of men’s purity leagues, as the Social Purity Alliance was already in existence, but she was responsible for converting the Church of England to the idea and for popularising it so that purity leagues mushroomed throughout the 1880s in Britain.

The rest of the book is the history of the transformation of physical into psychic love. 6 Throughout history men had misused women by ‘positive physical oppression and excess’ which had resulted in a restriction of woman’s ‘native individuality of mental power and action’. Her anger at the way that a woman was reduced by men’s obsession with physical love to a merely sexual function is echoed again and again through the development of feminist thought from the mid-nineteenth century through to the 1920s.

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