Book review: viscount ladywood’s ‘Gynecocracy’ (1893)

Firstly, what about that title? The ugly narch in ‘Gynarchy’ is a bit unfortunate, but the coc at the heart of ‘Gynecocracy’ is even less appropriate. So i think i’ll stick with my chosen term, although ‘gynecocracy’ seems to have a more venerable history, which i never knew till now.

The full title is Gynecocracy: A Narrative of the Adventures and Psychological Experiences of Julian Robinson (Afterwards Viscount Ladywood) Under Petticoat Rule. The ‘petticoat’ reference points up one of the dangers of fetishisation: it dates so quickly. i defy you to read the passages when he waxes lyrical on bloomers without laughing. On the other hand, perhaps he was consciously echoing Dr Johnson, who defined Gynecocracy as ‘petticoat government’ in his 1755 dictionary. It’s nice to know that it needed a word even then.

Here is a quote from a contemporary (1896) prospectus of the book:

“Gynecocracy” is not a common smutty little pamphlet devoted to the vulgar description, in coarse ungrammatical language, of common give-and-take love, but it is entirely based on a new idea, a fresh conception relating to a state of society that we may have heard about, talked about and whispered about; but we have never yet had this peculiar, pleasing, tantalising, salacious system of trained lubricity exposed before in print… All these questions relating to the sway of womanly government are here fully solved…

Sounds interesting? i thought so. But then the prospectus, like the book, drifts off into the realms of feminization:

Can it be possible that there are dainty, high-bred ladies who, gaily turning Nature’s laws upside down, find sweet solace in the sufferings of a sweet youth, who becomes their victim, and is forced to be their toy, sometimes an unwilling one, subjected to their most extraordinary lewd desires and inventions? Is petticoat-government a desirable form of education for a raw youth of tender birth, and can he become a man, if brought up among girls, dressed in female attire with corset, high-heeled shoes and sixteen-button gloves, so as to destroy all outward signs of his sex?

As everyone knows, nothing destroys manhood like 16 buttons.

So here is the tale: in retribution for upskirting a maid,  the young Viscount is packed off to a small boarding school where he is the only male pupil. The governess is stern; the maids are stern; the girls are amused, and become stern in their turn. his will is broken by rod and cane. he gets forced to wear girl-clothes, and gets called Julia. Various chastity devices are employed. A quantity of women’s garments are described in high resolution. This is always a warning sign, for me; when a writer shows more interest in Women’s clothes than in Women themselves, you begin to wonder.

Anyway, finding him one day tied to his bed and desperate for the chamber-pot, one of the girls makes him vow himself her slave for five years. A man turns up and fondles him, apparently believing him to be Female. It turns out the man is in fact a woman. He ends up marrying one of the girls, though why she would want to is obscure, because by this time the narrator is becoming seriously whiny.

The women are all fine or beautiful or whatever, and of course wear all the right kit (and there was a lot of that in 1894), but there is no room in his stream of self-obsession for any genuine admiration for the women in the tale. Gynecocracy it is not. It is, though, an interesting advance on Venus in Furs of two decades earlier, in moving beyond a single one-on-one relationship to a slightly wider gender-based power relationship.

The text is available here.

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