Philobiblon: Sex was not invented in 1963

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Sex was not invented in 1963 might not be surprised to hear. But women's writing about it in the past has frequently been ignored, even by scholars looking at other aspects of their work.

I've just been reading an article on Rose Scott (1847-1925), an early Australian feminist and social reformer. The article by Judith Allen is remarkable for its author's openness about how her view of her subject had changed over time. Allen writes: "My first work on Scott substantially ignored her writings on masculinity and sexuality. Instead, by splitting the public and the private, I focused on those of her activities generally accepted as giving Scott her importance to the history of feminism", e.g. suffrage, legal issues, the condition of prisoners. (p. 158)

"The personal is political" has been around a long time, but there still seems to be considerable discomfort in recognising the fact. Of course sometimes past writings were so coded, because that was the way women had to write, that it can be hard to recover the meanings, but that's not the case with Rose. She wrote about the "animal in man", which coiled itself around woman, suffocating her spirit. Woman had to endure "the snake". (Clear enough!)

Allen suggests that while it is easy to dismiss this "ignorant, misguided or cavalier on the question of women's pleasure", this ignored the fact that "heterosexuality as men enforced it was central to the oppression of women"(p. 164).

Rose in fact should perhaps be seen as a foremother of Andrea Dworkin, although Feministe pointed me to an article in which she explains she never said "all sex is rape". Her comments there also on violence within marriage tie with my earlier post on honour killings.

A short biog of Rose can be found here.

From Crossing Boundaries: Feminisms and the Critique of Knowledges," Barbara Caine, E.A. Grosz, Marie de Lepervanche (eds), Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1988, pp. 157-165


Blogger Susoz said...

I went to primary school with Judith Allen. She was in the year ahead of me, but one of her three sisters was in my class and her younger sister is a friend of friends of mine so I have seen her as an adult. (Totally trivial information.)

11/23/2004 01:50:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

We didn't need six degrees of separation, only two! I've never to my knowledge met Judith Allen, but I was lucky enough to be taught by Liz Grosz, one of the other editors of the volume, at Sydney University.

It was my first introduction to academic feminism, and she was absolutely brilliant.

There was a huge battle to get her tenure at the time, which is kind of amusing now, since she's one of the very few lecturers I've ever had who went on to attain a genuine international reputation.

11/23/2004 02:57:00 am  

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