Jeffrey Weeks

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Weeks, Jeffrey. "That Damned Morality: Sex in Victorian Ideology." The regulation of Sexuality since 1800. New York: Longeman, 1981.

Overview and Argument

In “The Damned Morality: Sex in Victorian Ideology” Jeffrey Weeks is responding to the claims of the double standard held regarding morality for men and women, and individuals from different class structures, throughout the Victorian time period. The juxtaposition and tension of his article can be seen before even setting eyes on the main text in the title “The Damned Morality…” Right off the bat Weeks is setting his audience up for his argument through this conflict of ideals stated in his title. Weeks looks at sexuality and how it “became a major social issue in Victorian and political practices” (19). As a historian Weeks looks at social constructions such as Christianity, marriage, the family, and class and how each social construction has attempted to manipulate sexuality and been inversely manipulated by sexuality.

Class and Power Relationship to Sexuality

Weeks continues his argument looking at the connections between sexuality and “class and power relations” (23). He states that during the nineteenth century “in response to major social changes…is a continuous battle over the definition of acceptable sexual behavior within the context of changing social class and power relations” (23). For instance the encouragement of “the education of working-class women in the virtues of housewifery” (32) supports this ideology of the family and controlling sexuality through gender roles even in “lower class structures.”

Weeks states that “sexual collapse seemed the necessary path of social revolution, sexual and family decorum a vital part of social stability” (27). This claim unites the social constructions in relation to sexuality as each construction Christianity, the family, and social class was thus impacted by this sexual collapse. Weeks claims of the double standard of sexuality for men and women though out this particular historical time period are seen within the social constructions of Christianity, the family, and class.

Secret sexuality

Weeks references Michael Foucault as he analyzes sexuality in this time period stating “even the refusal to talk about it…puts it at the heart of discourse. From the end of the eighteenth century…sexuality pervades the social consciousness” (19). In this claim Weeks addresses the fact that even as sex was not openly discussed during the eighteenth century it still permeates society. This secrecy regarding sexuality in this time period is disclosed in his stating that the “Oxford English Dictionary can find non instance of the world ‘pornography’ being used before 1864” supporting his claim that though sexuality was not acknowledged in society verbally it was no doubt a contribution to social construction.

Religion and Sexuality

Christianity, Weeks claims, has “formed the framework within which law and custom (if not always behavior) have operated” but disagrees with others such as Havelock Ellis who claims Christianity as the “dominant force” surrounding sexual behavior in society (22). Writing the church and preached through puritan ideals sexual conduct was “justified as a necessary part of reproduction…married love was a duty” (22). Weeks continues his argument claiming that these ideals set in place by the church were much more strictly imposed on women thus creating a “’double standard’ which enjoined chastity on the female while allowing a large degree of sexual freedom for the male” (22). Weeks might say The Coquette a novel from the mid 1700s exemplifies this double standard seen in the contradiction of the characters Eliza, a woman labeled as a “coquette” because of her unwillingness to settle down and commit to a man, and Sanford a “libertarian” who pursues his passions and steals the virtue of women.

The Family and Sex

The desire to control sexuality in society contributed to the “modern ideology, the family” (24). Through the increased legal obligation of the institution of marriage during the nineteenth century a sharp contrast was created between the married and unmarried. Thus socially making the social “difference between licit and illicit sex more important” (24). “The Victorian family was the first family form in histry which was both long-lasting and intimate” this was what “gave the family its peculiar importance in the surveillance, and control of sexual behavior” (25). The role of family in the policing of sexuality can be summed up in Weeks reference of “the orthodox Marxist version, the function of the family is to secure the maintenance of the existing social order economically, ideologically, and sexually” (25). Through the modern ideology the family what was deemed as sexually acceptable within society was maintained because the family was the “primary socialization of children and continuing socialization of adults” (25).


Jeffrey Weeks bases much of his argument on the separate treatment of men and women in society. He makes claims about the inequality of treatment of the two gender groups. This claim is a somewhat narrow perspective because by basing his claim in this he is assuming that men and women should be given and held to strictly equal societal positions. Looking at the Coquette his claims are supported as illustrated by the difference in the libertine and the coquette. The male figure viewed as a powerful idealized man in society, while the woman's value is diminished.

See Also:

  • Gayle Rubin on marriage, family, and kinship as creating a sexual double-standard.
  • Anne McClintock on Victorian class, gender, and sexual ideologies as produced amidst colonization of the non-Western world.