Contesting the "Laws of Life": Feminism, Sexual Science and Sexual Governance in Germany and Britain, c. 1880-1914.

Show simple item record Leng, Kirsten C. en_US 2012-01-26T20:07:36Z NO_RESTRICTION en_US 2012-01-26T20:07:36Z 2011 en_US en_US
dc.description.abstract Between 1880 and 1914, German-speaking and British ‘first wave’ feminists from varying political, religious and ethnic backgrounds engaged scientific “facts” and theories to underwrite and legitimize their demands for sexual reform. These scientific facts and theories, derived from the natural sciences, medical knowledge, anthropology, and psychiatric research, were coalescing into a fledging sexual science (sexology) at the turn of the century. In this dissertation, I examine how and why sexual science appealed to some feminists as an intellectual resource and potentially legitimizing discourse, even though sexual science was often used to disqualify feminists’ demands for equality and social justice. I focus in particular on the writings of lesser-known feminists, including Henriette Fürth, Ruth Bre, Johanna Elberskirchen, Anna Rüling, Rosa Mayreder, Frances Swiney, Grete Meisel-Hess, and Jane Hume Clapperton. Based on case studies of discourses surrounding the ‘normal’ female sex drive, ‘abnormal’ female sexual subjectivity, male (hetero)sexuality, and the role of eugenics in feminist sex reform, I argue that feminists’ investments in sexual science were simultaneously epistemological and strategic. I maintain that sexual science appealed to many feminists because of its representation of sex as a natural, material ‘fact of life’ that required ‘objective’ study and understanding, not dogmatic moral judgments. Sexual science thus enabled feminists to think about sex, especially sexual subjectivities and sexual relations, in ways that transcended the limitations of ‘man-made’ world. It also helped feminists to combat what they believed to be false and biased ‘pseudo-scientific’ knowledge about sex, and especially women’s sexuality. Feminists engaged sexual science as a tactically polyvalent discourse to produce their own ‘objective’ sexual knowledge, which they pitted against what they claimed were male scientists’ self-interested assertions. So doing enabled feminists to contest existing modes of what I have termed sexual governance, and to propose alternatives. Ultimately, while acknowledging the many ways in which feminists’ appeals to sexual science were problematic, I nonetheless argue that their engagement with sexual science was also empowering, and constituted a critical form of feminist praxis. en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.subject History of Sexuality en_US
dc.subject Gender History en_US
dc.subject Modern European History en_US
dc.subject History of Feminism en_US
dc.title Contesting the "Laws of Life": Feminism, Sexual Science and Sexual Governance in Germany and Britain, c. 1880-1914. en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreename Ph.D. en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreediscipline History & Women's Studies en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreegrantor University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Canning, Kathleen M. en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Spector, Scott D. en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Eley, Geoffrey H. en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Wingrove, Elizabeth R. en_US
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel Women's and Gender Studies en_US
dc.subject.hlbtoplevel Humanities en_US
dc.owningcollname Dissertations and Theses (Ph.D. and Master's)
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