Sunday, May 4, 2008

Reviewed: Holloway, Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia, 1920-1945

Pippa Holloway, Sexuality, Politics, and Social Control in Virginia,1920-1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006) is reviewed for H-Women by Julian B. Carter, Program in Critical Studies, California College of the Arts. Hat tip. Carter writes:
Pippa Holloway's deep research into Virginia politics, at both state and city levels, allows her to demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that state regulation of sexual behavior and reproduction was an important means of social control in early twentieth-century Virginia. More specifically, she shows that a small group of white elite males consistently and consequentially built social policies that reflected their belief that African Americans and poor whites posed sexual dangers to the state. Sexual regulation, she argues, helped draw and enforce a line between the "governing class" and the "class that was governed" (p. 6).
Holloway nuances this broad picture of social control by white elites in two ways. She is careful to depict and explore disagreements within the governing class to show "how it resolved differences within its ranks,"and she is equally careful to describe the ways that changes in the larger political context influenced which "visions of sexual regulation prevailed" (p. 3). Holloway's deft handling of the relationship between continuity and change makes for a convincing argument that the overall function of sexual regulation remained constant, although its focus changed considerably between 1920 and 1945. She notes that "white elites raised the possibility of sexual threats in different ways to define themselves as the class that could use the state to restrict others" (p.6). Thus, the introduction of film censorship and the active pursuit of eugenic sterilization in the 1920s gave way to blood testing for venereal disease as a prerequisite for marriage in the 1930s and to the regulation of prostitution as part of the fight against venereal disease during the Second World War, but the core reality remained the same. Across the decades, "white elites directed the authority of the state at those with the least ability to fight back," the disenfranchised majority whose putative lack of sexual self-control seemed to testify to the folly of allowing them to participate in governing themselves (p.2).
Continue reading here.

No comments: