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Renisa Mawani


The Hilda Neatby Prize English Article


Renisa Mawani, “Regulating the ‘Respectable’ Classes: Venereal Disease, Gender, and Public Health Initiatives in Canada, 1914-35”, in John McLaren, Robert Menzies and Dorothy E. Chunn (ed.), Regulating Lives: Historical Essays on the State, Society, the Individual and the Law (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2002): 170-95.

In this article, Mawani examines the anti-venereal campaign that was launched in Canada in the inter-war period. Taking her inspiration from Foucault’s social regulation theories, her analysis of flyers, brochures and other documents disseminated by governmental, medical and religious authorities over the course of this period, shows very convincingly that this public health campaign was aimed not only at marginalized groups or those considered more “at risk,” such as young single women or young working-class men, but also at the “respectable classes.” Resting on solid argumentation, Mawani’s article stresses that the ideas and the strategies deployed were aimed at regulating the sexual practices of all Canadians, men as well as women, a phenomenon that has generally been neglected by historians of the anti-venereal fight. While pointing out the persistence of the double sexual standard and the maintenance of a differentiated perception of venereal diseases and their control according to social class or membership group, Mawani clearly shows evidence of the highly moral character of the prevention campaigns and the manner in which they targeted the two sexes. This being the case, she puts the emphasis on doing away with gender boundaries and on the need to remain open to the alternative readings in our sources.