Between 1890 and 1920, thousands of suffragettes in Britain and the United States debated whether they should refuse to have sex, marry and conceive children as a political tactic to win their enfranchisement. They platformed these ideas at mass meetings and in highly popular works of fiction, meaning that sex and birth strike propositions were likely to have been encountered by audiences of at least hundreds of thousands. Comprehensively uncovering this movement for the first time, this thesis argues that sex and birth strike debates are key for understanding the transatlantic women's suffrage movement and wider early twentieth-century political culture. It challenges the common argument that womenÃ¢ÂÂs suffrage campaigners saw the vote as a panacea and were inherently optimistic that the electoral process would deliver wider reforms. This thesis reveals a movement of suffrage supporters whose desperate search for novel and provocative tactics betrayed deeper anxieties about the transformative power of the vote. Piecing together minutes of meetings, newspaper articles, novels, plays and two silent films which interrogated the notion of a suffragette sex or birth strike, this thesis analyses the complex political propositions, desires and concerns which these tactics represented. By uncovering the thought behind sex and birth strike advocacy, we therefore question existing assumptions about Edwardian democracy and citizenship. Centring a previously neglected potential suffragette tactic, this thesis investigates fresh transnational links, interrogates existing chronologies within suffrage history and brings forgotten tactical pioneers to the fore. Across four chapters, we see that suffragettes undoubtedly envisaged sex and birth striking as a form of militancy; that the tactics indicated a gendered vision of the ideal female citizen; that the debates brought suffrage campaigners into close contact with members from a range of other protest movements from trade unionism to Neo-Malthusianism; and that, contrary to the traditional claim that the outbreak of the First World War stifled suffrage militancy in Britain, the proposed strikes became especially popular after 1914. Collectively, these findings present a case for the importance of studying protest tactics which were considered, dreamt of and debated, but never enacted on a significant scale.
|Date of Award||31 Dec 2022|
- The University of Manchester
|Supervisor||Charlotte Wildman (Supervisor) & Emily Jones (Supervisor)|