Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914

Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914

Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914

Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914


Women's quest for the vote Kent argues, was indissolubly linked with other feminist demands for reform which would overturn the cultural constructions of masculinity and femininity and determined their powerlessness in both public and private.


For-let there be no mistake about it-this movement was not primarily political; it was social, moral, psychological and profoundly religious.


Until very recently, historians have tended to characterize the women's suffrage campaign in England as an exclusively political movement, as merely an attempt on the part of women to share in the general enfranchisement that occurred throughout the nineteenth century. Feminists did, indeed, demand recognition from and participation in the political process, but to stop here is to describe, not to understand, the feminist movement. In fighting for enfranchisement, suffragists sought no less than the total transformation of the lives of women. They set out to redefine and recreate, by political means, the sexual culture of Britain. Though suffragists repeatedly made this clear to the British public-and their opponents did not fail to take them at their word-the image of the suffrage campaign as a conservative, limited, purely political movement has remained intact. In one of the most recent claims, Patricia Stubbs, echoing the conventional wisdom, asserted in 1981 that the feminist movement “was entirely civic in its aims and organization.”

Within the last few years, historians such as Olive Banks, Les Garner, and Brian Harrison have acknowledged that the suffrage campaign went beyond the strictly political, but they have not adequately analyzed the primary connections between sexual issues and the demand for the vote. Richard Evans, for instance, defining feminism as the doctrine of equal rights for women, has stated that moral reform movements such as that seeking to end the state regulation of prostitution “further contributed to

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