In late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain, the existence or extent of sex between men was, with rare exceptions, denied or ignored by the legislature, the national newspapers and the medical profession. This book argues that the culture of resistance in Britain to public discussion of sex and sexuality between men was perpetuated to protect the precarious status of Victorian and Edwardian masculinity. Masculinity, it is argued here, meant a man being married. Furthermore, married men had, increasingly during this period, to demonstrate their masculinity through their abilities to support their spouses as housewives. This onerous responsibility did not end there. For men to be seen as fully masculine, freedom of movement between home, work and the public association with other men were prerequisites. It is the emphasis and consideration of the linked system of home, the workplace, the all male association and, in addition, the street, that offers the most potential to examine the social dynamics of masculinity in this period. The inherent contradictions and instability of the often-stifling domesticity of home, its clash with the demands of the workplace, the temptations of all male association and the presentation of masculinity in the street, was held in a precarious balance. This makes it easier to understand why masculine insecurity had such wide social ramifications in this period.1 If it were widely discussed that men also had sex with other men, and that emotional, sexual and domestic alternatives could exist outside the family and chaste homosocial associations, then the structure of society in this period would have been shaken at its foundations.


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  1. 1.
    Tosh, J, ‘What Should Historians do with Masculinity? Reflections on Nineteenth-Century Britain’, in History Workshop Journal, 1994, 38, p. 192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Sean Brady 2009

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