The Real Facts of Life: Feminism & the Politics of Sexuality, C1850-1940 // Review

Article excerpt

The Real Facts of Life: Feminism and the Politics of Sexuality, c. 1850 - 1940 Margaret Jackson London: Taylor & Francis, 1994; 206 pp.

Reviewed by Viveka von Rosen Religion and Culture Wilfrid Laurier University Waterloo, Ontario

Where does one find new material in the much reviewed subject of early feminism in England? These feminists, their writings, and the groups and unions which arose in that time, have been examined, dissected, and placed to rest in every "Introduction to Women's Studies" bibliography from Vancouver to Nova Scotia. At a time when race, power, and re - creating the self demand the attentions of Women's Studies departments, where does the Anglo - centric and puritan feminism of the Victorian and Edwardian era fit in? These were my biases when I approached Margaret Jackson's The Real Facts of Life. However, after spending some time with the book, I revised my opinion. The Real Facts of Life does offer some innovative glances at early feminism. It is able to re - adjust the more obvious history of the oppression of women and highlight an aspect of it which perhaps has been neglected because of its very blatancy.

Jackson bases The Real Facts of Life on the development of Victorian and Edwardian feminism and its attempts to "counteract the false theories of human nature" (p.63). Theories that, by their very nature, empowered men and enslaved women. She writes that the men of the Victorian and Edwardian age attempted to control women politically by citing that the "natural" urges of men and women dictated the necessity of a "natural male superiority." Having the power to define what was natural gave strength to their masculine political convictions. This common thesis is almost as applicable today as it was then.

The Real Facts is not just a rehashing of Victorian oppression. It also celebrates the birth of early feminism in England. Jackson adds a slight twist to the foundational days of feminism as we know it: she asserts that sexuality -- woman's attempts to control and assert her own, as well as man's political control over her sexuality -- was more central to early feminism than anyone has yet acknowledged. The challenge to the specifically sexual basis of male power was a central force in the foundations of Victorian and Edwardian feminism. Foundations such as the Women's Social and Political Union, the Women's Freedom League, the Moral Reform Union, and the National Vigilance Association were formed over this very issue. Feminist leaders like Edith Watson and Elizabeth Blackwell gained strength in argument over these issues, and foundational journals like The Vote, The Suffragette, and The Freewoman gained strength and notoriety because of the outrage over the sexual basis of male power. …