Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Negotiating Fraternal Gender Lines in World War I: Ettie Rout, Venereal Disease, and the Female Brother

Academic journal article Women's Studies Journal

Negotiating Fraternal Gender Lines in World War I: Ettie Rout, Venereal Disease, and the Female Brother

Article excerpt

Introduction

In November 1922, 45 copies of Ettie Rout's Safe marriage: A return to sanity were deemed in breach of New Zealand's 1910 Indecent Publications Act and seized by local customs officials. The Australian edition of Safe marriage, published a little later in 1923, included an appendix headed 'Suppression of knowledge' (Rout, 1923, pp. 88-93). In this appendix, Rout (1923) contextualised the particularly vehement opposition to her book expressed by the government of her former homeland, noting that 'New Zealand may be regarded as peculiarly interesting, as a typical English community rapidly becoming Americanised - destined, perhaps, to be the last home of original Puritanism' (p. 88). Safe marriage included within its covers references to techniques for the control of conception and sexually transmitted diseases, and medical diagrams of human sexual organs. Rout, furthermore, advocated sex for pleasure. Customs officials seized copies of Safe marriage because of the book's sexual frankness. But this was not the first time Rout's words were erased from the public realm. In 1917, the state placed a ban on Rout's letters to local newspapers because of her propensity for drawing attention to venereal disease.

Rout, born in Tasmania in 1877 to Catherine Frances McKay and William John Rout, was a shorthand typist and journalist, an entrepreneur beginning her own typing business in 1904, and a socialist active in the New Zealand labour movement from 1907. As Katie Pickles (2016) observes, Rout was part of a small community of radical thinkers living in Christchurch at the turn of the twentieth century. It was during World War I (WWI) while working with New Zealand soldiers abroad that Rout became an outspoken sex reformer advocating the use of prophylactics. Building upon existing historiography presenting Rout as controversial because of her progressive attitude towards sex, this article begins to reinterpret the widespread antagonism expressed towards Rout-symbolised in banning letters and seizing books-primarily from the perspective of French theorist Jacques Derrida's (2005) The politics of friendship. In so doing, it supplements themes of morality, social purity, and sexual independence to the fore in literature around sex reform, with Derridean paradigms for friendship, the gender of fraternity, and the woman enemy. It also moves beyond the gendered paradigm of the 'maternal citizen' who embraces her duty to the state through literal and metaphorical maternal care, and beyond the gendered paradigm of the 'honorary male' who transcends female roles to become 'one of the boys', to introduce the analytic perspective of the 'female brother'. Using 'friendship' to reframe Rout's sex reform work with soldiers and prostitutes during WWI enables the article to present Rout's work as a gendered strategy of female inclusion within what Derrida identifies as the paramount community of friends: the democratic nation-state.

Aotearoa/New Zealand historian Jane Tolerton (1992) produced landmark research into Rout's life in Ettie: A life of Ettie Rout. Documenting the controversy surrounding Rout in this and subsequent texts, Tolerton presented Rout's position regarding 'safe sex' as ahead of its time (Tolerton, 2001, 2016).1 International historiography concerning sexually candid reformers such as Rout has indicated that such figures could be caught between ideological- and arguably generational-shifts concerning the perceived nature of woman as a sexual and moral subject. As Lucy Bland (1990), Emma Liggins (2007, 2012), and Janet Lee (2011) demonstrate, on one side of the divide the 'Victorian' social purist continued to fight against the sexual double standard apparent in prostitution, encouraging a model for womanhood premised on spiritual purity and sexual chastity. On the other side stood the 'modern New Woman', embracing female sexual autonomy, agency, and desire. Sex reformers often shared the same networks as social purists, while advocating for the sexual agency aligned with the New Woman. …

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