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Popular Sexual Knowledges and Women's Agency in 1920s England: Marie Stopes's "Married Love" and E. M. Hull's "The Sheik"

Karen Chow
Feminist Review
No. 63, Negotiations and Resistances (Autumn, 1999), pp. 64-87
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1395588
Page Count: 24
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Popular Sexual Knowledges and Women's Agency in 1920s England: Marie Stopes's
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Abstract

This article examines popular discourses of women's sexuality in 1920s England and argues that sex manuals like Marie Stopes's Married Life and sex novels like E. M. Hull's The Sheik, despite their adherence to status quo values, were liberating for women through their affirmation of women's sexual subjectivity. Stopes's enormously popular book contributed strongly to a new understanding of women's sexual drives as natural and autonomous. The changing attitudes were reflected in the numbers of postwar women who actively participated in the creation and consumption of popular sex-novels and films, exercising both economic and sexual freedoms at once. This article focusses on the film version of The Sheik, which experienced great success as part of this growing leisure market catering specifically to women's desire, and in particular on the figure of Rudolph Valentino as a "woman-made" man. The film's "crossed" representations of sexuality (the emancipated "flapper" and the effeminate yet virile "sheik") challenged traditional notions of femininity and masculinity, and in doing so, were liberating for women consumers at the same time that they threatened the sexual identities of men.

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