chapter  14
6 Pages

The New Woman

This particular version of the staging of the spectacle of femininity, as Terry Lovell (1987) has argued, placed the 'gender order ... under spotlights', and led to 'a furious debate on what it meant to be a real man, a real woman' (119). Traditional assumptions about the inviolability of these latter categories were also called into question by the new sexual science. In The Psychology of Sex (1933, first version published in 1897) Havelock Ellis theorised a fluidity of gender categories which the New Woman dramatised. 'We may not know exactly what sex is', he noted, but 'we do know that it is mutable, with the possibility of one sex being changed ~nto the other sex ... that its frontiers are mutable, and that there are many stages between a complete male and a complete female' (225). While Ellis analysed and theorised, Punch's 'Angry Old Buffer' fulminated against the dissolution of established gender categories, in which the New Woman writer and her 'tales all slang and sin' played a prominent part:

... a new fear my bosom vexes; Tomorrow there may be no sexes! Unless, as end to all pother, Each one in fact becomes the other.