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Level 5

5AAH2026 Sexuality and Gender in Modern Britain

Credit value: 30
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Ben Mechen
Teaching pattern: 20 x 1-hour lecture & 20 x 1-hour seminar (weekly) 
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 3-hour examination (60%), 2 x essay of 2,000 words (15% each) & 1 x oral presentation (10%)

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment by the following methods: 1 x 3 hour examination (60%); 2 x 2,000 word essays (15% each); 1 x 1500 word essay (10%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This module will examine the controversies and changing experiences of gender and sexuality in Britain since 1885. It is positioned at the interface of social and political history, charting protest movements and legislative change alongside broad social trends in British families, labour markets and leisure cultures. Preparation for seminars will include historical scholarship set alongside collections of primary sources hosted by institutions such as the Wellcome Archive, London Metropolitan Archives and the Women’s Library. Film screenings will also be incorporated. Students will offer regular short presentations in the seminars, as well as being assessed by the submission of two essays and a written examination.

Topics covered will include: the ‘woman question’ and suffrage feminism; gendered changes in childhood, education and employment; feminism between the wars and shifting understandings of masculinity; gender and sex during World War II; prostitution and the evolution of queer cultures (including sexology and transgender issues); changing attitudes to marriage, divorce, contraception and abortion; and post-1968 feminism (including the gender politics of the Thatcher era and single motherhood).

The module aims to provide students with both a knowledge of the history and historiography of gender and sexuality in Britain since 1885, and an introduction to the history of feminism and anti feminism as political movements and social influences in recent British history. Students will acquire the ability to work with different genres of sources (film, literature, memoirs and oral histories) and think critically about what methodologies are best suited to their study, along with the ability to engage critically with theoretical work in the fields of sexuality and gender, and to assess the ways in which theory has influenced historical scholarship.

Provisional Teaching Plan

Semester 1

1. Framing the Course: The Nineteenth-century 'Woman Question'
2. Late Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Gender Unorthodoxy and Women's      Movement Pioneers
3. Suffrage Feminism
4. Gender and Feminism within Christianity
5. Contraception and Abortion - Wellcome Trust Archive fieldtrip
6. Marriage and Divorce
7. Sexual Violence
8. Gender and Education
9. Gender and Sex During Two World Wars
10. Prostitution

Semester 2

11. Boyhood, Girlhood and Adolescence: Freedom, Sexual Cultures and                    Courtship
12. Masculinities and Fatherhood
13. Women, Paid Work and Equal Pay
14. Feminism between the Wars - Old and New?
15. Male Homosexuality: Uranians, Queers and Gay Liberation
16. Lesbianism
17. Cross-Dressing, 'Transexuality', and Transgender
18. Post-1968 Feminisms
19. Single Motherhood and the Gendering of State Welfare
20. The Gender Politics of the Thatcher Era

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these texts is not mandatory.

Lucy Bland, Modern Women on Trial: Sexual Transgression in the Age of the Flapper (2013)

Stephen Brooke, Sexual Politics: Sexuality, Family Planning and the British Left from the 1880s to the Present Day(2011)

Carol Dyhouse, Girl Trouble: Panic and Progress in the History of Young Women(2013)

Kathryn Gleadle, Borderline Citizens: Women, Gender, and Political Culture in Britain, 1815 - 1867, (2009)

Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880, (2nd edition, 2013)

Alana Harris and Timothy Jones, Love and Romance in Twentieth-Century Britain, (2015)

Matt Houlbrook, Queer London: Perils and Pleasures in the Sexual Metropolis, 1918-1957 (2005)

Rebecca Jennings, Tomboys and Bachelor Girls: A Lesbian History of Post-War Britain, 1945-71 (2007)

Claire Langhamer, The English in Love: The Intimate Story of an Emotional Revolution, (2013)

Martin Pugh, The March of the Women. A Revisionist History of the Suffrage Campaign (2000)

Simon Szreter and Kate Fisher, Sex before the Sexual Revolution: Intimate Life in England 1918-1963 (2010)

Additional costs

  • As the module will include occasional field trips, please note that additional transport costs within London may be incurred. 
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