BANISHING THE BEAST: Sexuality and the Early Feminists by Lucy Bland

BANISHING THE BEAST: Sexuality and the Early Feminists

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A superb examination of early feminist politics. As a case study for sexual politics in late 19th century Britain, Bland (Women's Studies/North London Polytechnic) focuses on the middle-class ""Men and Women's Club"" started in 1885 with the goal of scientifically discussing all things pertaining to the relations between men and women. Based on club minutes, personal communications, and public records, Bland's exhaustive analysis explores gender relations at a crucial time in the history of women's rights. The club members, Bland's prototypical feminists, appropriated religious, medical, and evolutionary theory to influence debates about the role of women in society. They turned public attention to the picture of the dangerous male unable to control his sexual desires, endangering women, children, and all morality. According to Bland, since women were considered morally superior to men, they were also responsible for the moral development of society. Women, in effect, were constantly battling the beast in all men, and this responsibility was their ticket to entering social and political arenas: Suffrage, for example, was necessary for women to implement their moral authority. In the final chapter, Bland ties together the extensive history of feminist thought with current debates. Most importantly, she outlines the danger of repeating repressive politics, pointing to the irony in current anti-porn debates: ""In presenting women as. . . passive objects of a monolithic lustful male sexuality (man as the 'beast'), contemporary campaigners recreate the fantasy world of porn and all its misinformation about sexuality."" Similarly the early feminists, in their ""zeal for the abolition of prostitution,"" focused on the sex workers rather than their male customers, obscuring the sexual inequality at the core of such gendered interaction. Packed with historical details, this work captures the spirit and conflicts of feminist thought.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: New Press