Erasing sexuality from the blackboard

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Tamboukou, Maria (2002)

This paper explores certain images and perceptions that British women teachers at the turn of the nineteenth century, used to position themselves discourses of sexuality. Starting from the assumption that sex matters in the construction of subjectivities, I have further suggested that sexuality has created an arena of conflicting and often contradictory discourses that have influenced past and contemporary perceptions related to the persona of the woman teacher. A point that has been highlighted in the discussion of this paper is that one of the most powerful images has been that of the asexual woman teacher. However the autobiographical writings of ‘real’ women teachers have spoken differently. They have revealed women who were deeply concerned with making sense of their sex, acknowledging their desires and making specific life choices. In doing so, they often found themselves entangled within the discursive restraints of wifehood and motherhood, the only recognisable female sexual roles of their era. Although they did not reject the social necessity of these roles, they resisted the gendered structure of power relations within them and sought to recreate them by finding some other spaces and different vocabularies through which to express their sexuality. I finally suggest that far from being the key to unlock the secret of her existence, sexuality has become a passage for the female self, to work upon herself.
  • References (41)
    41 references, page 1 of 5

    1. Cited in Janet Malcolm, The Silent Woman, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes (Papermac) London, 1994, p. 94.

    2. Sandra Weber and Claudia Mitchell, That's Funny, You Don't Look Like a Teacher (Falmer Press) London, 1995.

    4. See Sara Delamont and Lora Duffin (eds), The 19th Century Woman: Her Culture and Physical World (Croom Helm) London, 1978; Carol Dyhouse, Girls Growing up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (Routledge and Kegan Paul) London, 1981; Dina Copelman, London's Women Teachers: Gender, Class, and Feminism, 1870-1930 (Routledge) London, 1996; June Purvis, A History of Women's Education in England (Open University Press) Milton Keynes, 1991, p. 157.

    5. Lee Quinby (ed.), 'Sex Matters' in Genealogy and Literature (University of Minnesota Press) Minneapolis, 1995.

    6. See, amongst others, Susan Mendus and Jane Rendall, Sexuality and Subordination: Interdisciplinary Studies of Gender in the Nineteenth Century (Routledge) London, 1989; Lucy Bland, Banishing the Beast, English Feminism and Sexual Morality,1885-1914 (Penguin) Harmondsworth, 1995; Jill Matus, Unstable Bodies: Victorian Representations of Sexuality and Maternity (Manchester University Press)Manchester, 1995;Alison Mackinnon, Love and Freedom: Professional Women and the Reshaping of Personal Life (Cambridge University Press) Cambridge, 1997.

    7. Mackinnon, Love and Freedom.

    8. Foucault's encounter with feminist theories has created tensions and contradictions. See, amongst others, Teresa de Lauretis, Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theory, Film and Fiction (Macmillan) Basingstoke, 1987; Chris Weedon, Feminist Practice and Postructuralist Theory (Basil Blackwell)NewYork, 1987;IreneDiamond andLee Quinby (eds), Feminism and Foucault: Refections on Resistance (North eastern University Press) Boston, 1988; Jane Flax, Thinking Fragments: Psychoanalysis, Feminism and Postmodernism in the Contemporary West (University of California Press) Oxford,1990; Lois McNay, Foucault and Feminism (Polity Press)Cambridge, 1992; Linda Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism (Routledge) London, 1990; Rosi Braidotti, Patterns of Dissonance (Polity Press) Cambridge, 1991 and Nomadic Subjects (Columbia University Press) NewYork, 1994;Jana Sawicki, Disciplining Foucault (Routledge)London, 1991;Elspeth Probyn, Sexing the Self: Gendered Positions in Cultural Studies (Routledge) London, 1993; Caroline Ramazanoglou (ed.), Up Against Foucault (Routledge) London,1993. However, I will agree with Braidotti's argument that the theories of Foucault and Deleuze in contemporary philosophy have been the least harmful to women. See Braidotti, Patterns ofDissonance,p.124. In this light, the Foucauldian genealogy is taken as a tool for analysis, 'trails to be followed' rather than a type of closed methodology.

    9. Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, An Introduction, vol. I (1976)(Penguin)Harmondsworth,1990,p.3.

    10. Sheila Jeffreys, The Spinster and Her Enemies, FeminismandSexuality1880-1930 (Pandora) London, 1985.

    12. See Carol Dyhouse, 'Good Wives and Little Mothers: Social Anxieties and the Schoolgirl's Curriculum, 1890- 1920', Oxford Review of Education, vol. 3, no. 1, 1977, pp. 21-35 and 'Towards a “Feminine Curriculum” for English Schoolgirls: the Demands of Ideology 1870-1963', Women's Studies International Quarterly, vol.1, 1978, pp.291- 311;Mackinnon, Love and Freedom ,pp. 150-152;Bland, Banishing the Beast, especially the chapter 'Women Defined', pp. 48-91.

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