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The Spinster and Her Enemies

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Language  English
Pages  232
Originally published  1985
Page count  232
Country  United Kingdom
4.1/5 Goodreads

Media type  Print (Paperback)
ISBN  978-1875559633
Author  Sheila Jeffreys
Subject  Social purity movement
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Similar  Sheila Jeffreys books, Woman books

The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880-1930 is a 1985 book about feminist involvement in the Social Purity movement by lesbian feminist Sheila Jeffreys. The book received positive reviews.



Jeffreys examines feminist involvement in the Social Purity movement at the turn of the 19th century. She argues that the women involved were developing a critique of male sexual abuse of women and children which included a call for feminists to abstain from sex with men. She writes that they were politically defeated by the ascendency of sexology and the birth-control movement, both of which attacked spinsterhood and sought to recruit women back into heterosexuality. She warns feminists against what she sees as the dangers which sexual libertarianism poses to feminist goals.

Gay and feminist media

The Spinster and Her Enemies received a positive review from author Mary Meigs in the gay magazine The Body Politic. Meigs praised Jeffreys's treatment of figures such as Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Iwan Bloch, and August Forel, endorsed her view that in 1880s Britain, passionate friendships between women were only acceptable when they posed no threat to heterosexuality, and credited her with documenting the use of accusations of lesbianism as a weapon against feminism in the 19th century. Meigs concluded that Jeffreys "reminds us that patriarchal hostility to lesbians is as strong now as it was in the period she describes so thoroughly."

The book was also reviewed by Eileen Barrett in Sojourner: The Women's Forum.

Scientific and academic journals

The Spinster and Her Enemies received positive reviews from biographer Phyllis Grosskurth in The Times Literary Supplement, historian Lillian Faderman in the American Journal of Sociology, and Penny Summerfield in Victorian Studies. The book was also reviewed by feminist Anne Summers in Sociology of Health & Illness, Judith Wishnia in Contemporary Sociology, historian Marilyn Lake in Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, and Ruth Doell in the Journal of Homosexuality.

Grosskurth called The Spinster and Her Enemies one of the best studies on the "struggle of women in history" to have appeared within the last decade, and described the book as "splendidly documented, provocative and never dull." Grosskurth considered Jeffreys's most original contribution to be her theory that the "sexual reformers" were actually working against the interests of women. However, she criticized Jeffreys for ignorning Ellis's "contribution to female sexual fulfilment." Faderman endorsed Jeffreys's view that the inequality of power between men and women in the area of seuxality is the basis of women's social inequality, and that spinsterhood or lesbianism are a remedy to that inequality. Summerfield wrote that while Jeffreys depicted the hold of the "ideology of compulsory heterosexuality" as absolute, further documentary evidence of female friendships was needed to determine the extent to which this was true in the period between World War I and the 1970s.

Evaluations in books

Feminist Rene Denfeld criticized The Spinster and Her Enemies for being part of a repressive, anti-sexual trend within contemporary feminism.


The Spinster and Her Enemies Wikipedia

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