An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community

An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community

An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community

An Ordered Love: Sex Roles and Sexuality in Victorian Utopias: The Shakers, the Mormons, and the Oneida Community

Synopsis

An Ordered Love is the first detailed study of sex roles in the utopian communities that proposed alternatives to monogamous marriage: The Shakers (1779-1890), the Mormons (1843-90), and the Oneida Community (1848-79).

The lives of men and women changed substantially when they joined one of the utopian communities. Louis J. Kern challenges the commonly held belief that Mormon polygamy was uniformly downgrading to women and that Oneida pantagamy and Shaker celibacy were liberating for them. Rather, Kern asserts that changes in sexual behavior and roles for women occurred in ideological environments that assumed women were inferior and needed male guidance. An elemental distrust of women denied the Victorian belief in their moral superiority, attacked the sanctity of the maternal role, and institutionalized the dominance of men over women.

These utopias accepted the revolutionary idea that the pleasure bond was the essence of marriage. They provided their members with a highly developed theological and ideological position that helped them cope with the ambiguities and anxieties they felt during a difficult transitional stage in social mores.

Analysis of the theological doctrines of these communities indicates how pervasive sexual questions were in the minds of the utopians and how closely they were related to both reform (social perfection) and salvation (individual perfection). These communities saw sex as the point at which the demands of individual selfishness and the social requirements of self-sacrifice were in most open conflict. They did not offer their members sexual license, but rather they established ideals of sexual orderliness and moral stability and sought to provide a refuge from the rampant sexual anxieties of Victorian culture.

Kern examines the critical importance of considerations of sexuality and sexual behavior in these communities, recognizing their value as indications of larger social and cultural tensions. Using the insights of history, psychology, and sociology, he investigates the relationships between the individual and society, ideology and behavior, and thought and action as expressed in the sexual life of these three communities. Previously unused manuscript sources on the Oneida Community and Shaker journals and daybooks reveal interesting and sometimes startling information on sexual behavior and attitudes.

Excerpt

Les utopies ne sont souvent que des vérits prematurées [Utopias are frequently but premature truths]. -- Lamartine The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. -- Henry David Thoreau, Walden

The utopian tradition has been an important strain in the American mind throughout our history. It has acted as a goad to slumbering conscience, a call to action. Utopian thought has not influenced the main currents of our political and economic life extensively, but has played a significant role in keeping alive the spirit of perfectibility, the belief that man can improve his circumstances as well as himself. In that respect, utopian societies have performed a social function analogous to that of third parties in American politics.

Third parties have never succeeded in controlling the policies of the major political parties in the United States, nor have they wielded significant power on the national level; but they have served as political gadflies to call attention to the abuses and shortsightedness of orthodox politicians, and thereby sufficiently to awaken them from their lethargy to achieve some measure of reform. Seen in the long view, utopianism has served a similar social function, especially insofar as it has stimulated middle-class advocates to take up reform causes.

Postmillennial utopians, who believed in the radical and immediate perfectibility of man, were concerned with an exceptionally broad range of reform issues. Oneida Perfectionists, for example, were pacifists and antislavery and temperance advocates and sought reform in health, dietary practice, hygiene, education, and, in a wider sense, the whole of social life as it related to labor, economic production and distribution, the family, marriage, and divorce. Through articles in various reform journals and private correspondence with reform leaders (John H. Noyes, head of the Oneida Community, corresponded with William Lloyd Garrison

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