Gender and Political Identities in Scotland, 1919-1939

Gender and Political Identities in Scotland, 1919-1939

Gender and Political Identities in Scotland, 1919-1939

Gender and Political Identities in Scotland, 1919-1939

Synopsis

Annmaire Hughes builds a popular political history of women, the home, and family in interwar Scotland, integrating class and gender and linking public and private spheres. She reveals the previously unexplored role that women played in interwar socialist politics, the General Strike, and popular political protest, demonstrating how gender shaped class and class struggle, particularly domestic violence.

Excerpt

A man was brought into this world to be the breadwinner. No wife
unless it’s necessary should be out working. She should be at home
attending to him and the children.

According to many historians the separate spheres ideal reached its apogee between the wars in Britain. This book seeks to evaluate this hypothesis and the factors that may have influenced inter-war women to embrace the traditional worldview on womanhood quoted above that continued to position them in the private sphere as dependants of men. the investigation will consider the extent to which women did subjectify this vision of womanhood and how far this guaranteed their subordination. in other words, could women resist, defy or subvert dominant discourses to empower themselves? These questions, concerning power and identity, are central to this book and will be addressed by investigating how working-class women’s political identities were influenced by the discursive context, but also by class, geography and the gender antagonism that existed in Scotland between the wars.

The inter-war years are identified with sexual antagonism in the workplace, politics, and everyday life that was intended to shore up the gendered public/private divide. Kingsley Kent argues that in the aftermath of World War I attempts to return to normality resulted in a backlash against women because ‘the terrors’ of war ‘problematised masculinity, fragmenting it, causing men to question their relationship to a universal maleness’. the result of this was that ‘towards the end of the war men perceived women to be emasculating them and began, at least rhetorically, to strike back’. Showalter insists that ‘men’s quarrels with the feminine element in their own psyches’ were ‘externalised as quarrels with women’. Represented as sexual disorder, this situation ensured that peace came to imply ‘a return to traditional gender relationships’ in which men dominated the public sphere and women were confined to the private sphere.

Interview with author: SOH/CA/019/06, born 1907, Glasgow. All interviewees have been given alternative names. References denote the archive deposit at the Scottish Oral History Centre, University of Strathclyde. There are profiles in the bibliography of the individual’s transcripts used for this book.

S. Kingsley Kent, Making Peace, the Reconstruction of Gender in Inter-War Britain (Princeton, 1993), 37–8, 70, 116–37 and 237, and E. Showalter, as quoted in S. Kingsley Kent, ‘The politics of sexual difference: World War I and the demise of British feminism’, Journal of

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