State regulation of sexuality in New Zealand 1880-1925
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examines the development of sex legislation in New Zealand between 1880 and 1925. It argues that legislative developments were largely shaped by patriarchal, feminist, social purity, secular and medical/scientific discourses. Chapter I examines the rise of the last four discourses and discusses the growth of the interventionist state. Analysis of changes to marriage laws in Chapters II (Divorce) and III (Incest and In-laws) reveal strong secularist and feminist influences. Secular, feminist and purity discourses converged on the question of equal grounds for divorce but diverged on the issue of further extension of the divorce law. Secularist discourse also intersected with medical/scientific discourse on divorce debates and debates over proposed changes to the prohibited degrees of marriage. The rise of the medical profession and medical/scientific discourse is a strong theme in Chapters IV (Censorship) and V (Prostitution and Venereal Disease). Strong links between purity and medical discourse are revealed in an analysis of New Zealand's censorship laws. However, major tensions between the discourses are apparent in debates over state regulation of prostitution and public health responses to venereal disease. Chapter VI (Sex, Youth and the State) explores the connections between late nineteenth-century childhood and feminist-purity discourses. Attempts to extend the age limits of childhood converged with feminist discourse to produce a major campaign for a higher age of consent for girls. However, feminists' desire to protect girls from men's sexual advances led to more rigorous attempts to control the behaviour of the girls themselves. The controlling and coercive tendencies of early-twentieth century feminism are further developed in Chapter VII (‘Degenerates', 'Perverts' and the State). Feminist discourse converged with medical/scientific discourse to produce a new focus upon the 'feeble-minded' female sexual degenerate. Chapter VII also explores the impact of medical/scientific discourses on male sexual deviance. The medicalisation of homosexuality and child sexual abuse led to a reassessment of the best means of controlling or reforming male sexual offenders. Ultimately it can be concluded that conflicting and converging discourses operating within a climate of major social, ideological and technological change transformed the state regulation of sexuality in New Zealand between 1880 and 1925.