British young women’s history

This punk rock music video from England says about itself:

X-Ray Spex performing their most well known song “Oh Bondage! Up Yours!” circa 1977. From the documentary “Punk in London”.

By Rhian E Jones in Britain:

Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women
Carol Dyhouse (Zed Books £14.99)

Sunday 14 April 2013

Tabloid campaigns against the ‘undeserving poor,’ particularly women, are a warning not to be ignored

Carol Dyhouse has built a solid reputation for producing accessible and effusive histories of aspects of gender in 19th and 20th-century Britain.

Girl Trouble is a similarly useful and enthusiastic look at a century’s obsession with the conduct of young women in Britain, demonstrating the ways in which women’s history is inextricably linked to the history of social and political development.

Veering between history and sociology, Dyhouse draws on a wide range of sources and analyses them in lucid language. After a vivid refutation of the urban myths of white slavery which convulsed the country around the turn of the century, she then takes the reader through the 20th century – a journey in which dangers to female virtue are variously posed by jazz, factory work, US GIs, rock ‘n’ roll, women’s liberation, binge-drinking and raunch culture.

Girl Trouble explores how the rapid pace of social change – particularly after the second world war – presented young women with greater opportunities for independence and control over their own lives, but also generated further chances for panic and anxiety over what these opportunities might bring.

What may be surprising about the journey Dyhouse describes is how consistently its progress has remained informed by the tension between young women as “good girls” in need of protection by family, church or state and as “bad girls” whose inclination to rebellion and defiance must be curbed by those same authorities.

What is also remarkable is how familiar many of these hysterias and anxieties can seem to the contemporary reader.

The moral panics of Victorian and Edwardian Britain with which the book begins have their obvious echoes in the modern era, from the justification of cuts to child benefit by reference to stereotypes of irresponsible single mothers to the cautionary tale of Paris Brown, a 17-year-old whose frank discussion of her sex life was categorised by Keith Vaz MP as “anti-social behaviour.”

Contemporary anxieties, however, appear to have switched their focus from the danger to virtue posed by female independence, to the pernicious degeneracy associated with women’s sexual and social autonomy.

The threads which connect these anxieties to those of the 19th century are of course those of a patriarchal capitalist society’s view of female sexuality as a disruptive and subversive influence in need of constant policing – a process fuelled, reflected and reinforced by media sensationalism.

The resurgent Victorian rhetoric of today’s tabloid debates around access to welfare for the “undeserving poor,” particularly women, can serve as a reminder that the progress and opportunities fought for by women over the past century must be defended rather than taken for granted.

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