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Sex and Manners: Female Emancipation in the West, 1890-2000.



Sex and Manners: Female Emancipation in the West, 1890-2000. By Cas Wouters (London: Sage Publications This article or section needs sources or references that appear in reliable, third-party publications. Alone, primary sources and sources affiliated with the subject of this article are not sufficient for an accurate encyclopedia article. , 2004. ix plus 188 pp. $99.95).

In Sex and Manners, Cas Wouters presents part of a larger comparative study of change in twentieth-century manners books in the United States United States, officially United States of America, republic (2005 est. pop. 295,734,000), 3,539,227 sq mi (9,166,598 sq km), North America. The United States is the world's third largest country in population and the fourth largest country in area. , Great Britain Great Britain, officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (2005 est. pop. 60,441,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. The country is often referred to simply as Britain. , the Netherlands and Germany. The focus here is on ideas and practices relating to relating to relate prepconcernant

relating to relate prepbezüglich +gen, mit Bezug auf +acc 
 gender relations, especially courtship. Wouters' work is useful because of its comparative, empirical, synthetic and systematic approach. He is able to develop a convincing theory of change on the basis of clear patterns of similarity and difference in the different nations he examines. In all four areas he finds that manners have become more informal and emotions more free over the course of the twentieth century; and that psychic and social gaps between groups have narrowed, allowing greater integration and easier identification between groups. At the same time, the process of individualization individualization,
n the process of tailoring remedies or treatments to cure a set of symptoms in an indiv-idual instead of basing treatment on the common features of the disease.
 has proceeded, as individual identity has grown at the expense of group identity. This trend has been linked in turn to an increasing reliance on self-control rather than external controls for behavior. All of these were "spiral" trends, with periods of accelerated change followed by periods of retrenchment re·trench·ment
n.
The cutting away of superfluous tissue.
, but in the overall direction just described. The national differences Wouters finds are mostly the result of a vanguard surge of change in the United States in the 1920s, where, in courtship as in other areas, the United States experienced developments that other western nations did not realize until after World War II. Interestingly, Wouters finds that an earlier start did not lead to the greatest degree of sexual and gender emancipation by 2000, but rather circumscribed circumscribed /cir·cum·scribed/ (serk´um-skribd) bounded or limited; confined to a limited space.

cir·cum·scribed
adj.
Bounded by a line; limited or confined.
 change in the U.S., at least in comparison to the Western European societies that he surveys.

Wouters structures his analysis of manners books with a trope trope  
n.
1. A figure of speech using words in nonliteral ways, such as a metaphor.

2. A word or phrase interpolated as an embellishment in the sung parts of certain medieval liturgies.
 from his gender focus: women's "escape" from their nineteenth-century confinement to "the home and good society." After describing the starting point Noun 1. starting point - earliest limiting point
terminus a quo

commencement, get-go, offset, outset, showtime, starting time, beginning, start, kickoff, first - the time at which something is supposed to begin; "they got an early start"; "she knew from the
 of female parlor power in the Victorian age Noun 1. Victorian age - a period in British history during the reign of Queen Victoria in the 19th century; her character and moral standards restored the prestige of the British monarchy but gave the era a prudish reputation , subsequent chapters detail the ways in which women got free in the twentieth century--to pay for themselves in public, to go out to work, to go about without chaperones, and to "do their own courting." In each chapter he examines ideas and practices in each country. The centerpiece of the book is a long chapter that describes the last two "developments in courting regimes." It is here that Wouters describes how sexual emancipation happened earliest in the U.S. and that European nations did not catch up until the 1960s. But the timing had interesting consequences in terms of equality. Because Europeans only got around to embracing sexual liberation in the era of "second wave" feminism (and the second wave of youth culture), the practices of a new dating regime reflected a more egalitarian consensus. Since the U.S., in contrast, pioneered the dating game on college campuses in the 1920s--before significant strides were made in gender equality--the resulting rituals inscribed in·scribe  
tr.v. in·scribed, in·scrib·ing, in·scribes
1.
a. To write, print, carve, or engrave (words or letters) on or in a surface.

b. To mark or engrave (a surface) with words or letters.
 male dominance Male dominance, or maledom, generally refers to heterosexual BDSM activities where the dominant partner is male, and the submissive partner is female. However, the term is sometimes used to refer to homosexual BDSM activities, where both partners are male and one is dominant. . Wouters follows this long chapter with a shorter discussion of the history of what he calls the lust-balance (between desires for sex and love) since the sexual revolution. In a final chapter he reviews the trends he has uncovered and exposes theoretical "regularities in [the] processes."

Historians of manners and courtship in particular places, such as Beth Bailey (the U.S.), Michael Curtin and Leonore Davidoff (Britain), will appreciate how his comparative approach adds to their findings by putting them in a larger context. Historians who have studied earlier periods, such as Anna Bryson (early modern England), Richard Bushman Richard Lyman Bushman was the Gouverneur Morris Professor of History at Columbia University, where he is currently emeritus. In early September 2007, Claremont University announced that it had appointed Professor Bushman as its Howard W. Hunter Visiting Professor in Mormon Studies. , or John Kasson (eighteenth and nineteenth-century U.S.) will appreciate how he describes the distinctive overall trend of "informalization" of the twentieth century, and yet connects it to the processes of rising self-controls that all scholars have been tracing since Norbert Elias Norbert Elias (June 22, 1897 — August 1, 1990) was a German sociologist of Jewish descent, who later became a British citizen.

His work focused on the relationship between power, behavior, emotion, and knowledge over time.
 put (early modern) manners on the map. Specifically, Wouters shows how informalization involves more self-control than the seemingly self-controlled Victorians. At least the latter had clear conventions to follow, signaling the persistence of some degree of external control even as the importance of self-control was rising. Wouters also shows the twentieth-century continuation of the trend of avoidance of expressions of superiority and inferiority that were inaugurated in the late eighteenth-century democratic revolutions. His comparative analysis and twentieth-century focus thus allows Wouters to add significantly to the story of manners and society that scholars have been investigating since the translation of Elias in the 1980s. His systematic and empirical approach--he starts with evidence and ends with theory, as opposed to the other way around--will make it easier for others to evaluate and use his work. Indeed, this book and the larger work to come will consolidate Wouters' many previously published contributions to the story of manners and emotions in twentieth-century Europe and America.

Historians might find two aspects of this work frustrating. Wouters is a sociologist and therefore the theoretical parts of his writing can be a rough hike for historians inclining more and more to jargon-free narrative. In addition, Wouters' penultimate pe·nul·ti·mate  
adj.
1. Next to last.

2. Linguistics Of or relating to the penult of a word: penultimate stress.

n.
The next to the last.
 chapter, where he describes trends since the sexual revolution, is a bit of an odd fruit in this book. Of necessity, he has to go beyond his manners-book base to get at current sexual practices, making considerable use, for example, of a Dutch feminist magazine. Wouters' own views about sex and gender also tend to color his survey of the current scene, whereas in earlier chapters he was careful to describe the spectrum of opinion among advice writers. Finally, despite his sensitivity to women's experience as sexual subject versus sexual object, Wouters' book might have been richer for more systematic comparison of male and female positions. The focus on female emancipation is paradoxically confining. In all, however, Wouters offers yet another of his important contributions to the history of sex and manners.

C. Dallett Hemphill

Ursinus College
COPYRIGHT 2006 Journal of Social History
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2006, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Hemphill, C. Dallett
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Sep 22, 2006
Words:976
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