Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality

Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality

Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality

Regulating Womanhood: Historical Essays on Marriage, Motherhood, and Sexuality


"Sexuality, motherhood and marriage were matters of public policy throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They were prominent areas in the regulation of women, but the idea that the law merely reflected what was normal and natural obscured the extent of this regulation. Regulating Womanhood poses historically and culturally specific questions about the mechanisms that have controlled and restricted women. It shows not merely how laws and policies have set boundaries to the lives of women but also how the category of 'woman' has been constructed as a specific object for legal and social policy, and how women came to be seen as needing 'special' regulation. In addition, Regulating Womanhood explores how children and the organisation of reproduction and sexuality operated to normalise and make acceptable the degree of regulation to which women were subjected. Yet this is not a catalogue of the unmitigated subjection of women in history. The contributors focus on women's resistance and activity, and on the shift in modes of regulation, to challenge the idea of an unchanging history of the legal oppression of women." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Carol Smart

This edited collection is part of an ongoing project whose main aim is to continue to refine and develop feminist ‘legal’ scholarship. I have put ‘legal’ in quotation marks because the book takes law and legality in its widest sense, and all the contributors approach their specific subjects from a social history/social scientific perspective rather than a strictly legal one. The book is also a theoretical enterprise as much as an historical exercise. Whilst I am not assuming that historiography is a theory-free exercise, the papers in this collection are addressed to, or imbued with, concerns over current theoretical debates about the construction of the category ‘Woman’, the various forms of theoretical and political dissent with feminism itself and the ways in which social regulation is productive of both subjects (of regulation) and of resistance. These theoretical concerns are pursued through some very detailed analyses of specific historical moments and/or debates occurring mostly in late-nineteenth or early-twentieth-century Britain.

The specific focus is modes of regulation through sexuality, marriage and motherhood. However, the book as a whole does not treat these as discrete entities but works to show how they interrelate to create a specifically gendered form of social regulation. A most important sub-theme is the linkage of women and children and the development of discourses on motherhood and caring as productive of forms of gentle, and not so gentle, regulation. It would seem to be increasingly the case that we cannot understand the workings of forms of regulation without giving some degree of priority to how the category of Woman is constructed in relation to the category of the Child.

Since the early contribution by Dahl and Snare (1978) on the coercion of privacy, feminist legal scholarship has been interested

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