Skip to main content
Article thumbnail
Location of Repository

'Men who are men and women who are women': fascism, psychology and feminist resistance in the work of Winifred Holtby

By Lisa Regan


Winifred Holtby was a novelist, journalist and feminist, writing in the 1920s and 1930s. This thesis focuses on her feminist resistance to the fashion for sexual division in interwar Britain. She reads it as a social and political backlash against women’s equal rights that seeks to drive women out of the workplace and back into the home. In Holtby’s view, the popularisation of Freud and the growing appeal of fascism contribute to this backlash by stressing women’s primary role as wives and mothers. For Holtby, Sir Oswald Mosley, the leader of the British Union of Fascists, sums up this fashion for sexual division when he declares in 1932, ‘we want men who are men and women who are women’.\ud \ud Previous scholarship has focused on Holtby’s work in dialogue with her friend and fellow feminist, Vera Brittain. This thesis adopts a more panoramic perspective to consider Holtby’s work in the context of other feminist contemporaries and in the context of feminist intellectual history. Each chapter examines how Holtby draws inspiration from a figure in feminist history in order to challenge the influences of psychology and fascism on attitudes to women between the wars.\ud \ud Holtby declared that Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) was the ‘bible of the woman’s movement’ and the first chapter examines Wollstonecraft’s influence on Holtby’s feminist thought. The second chapter considers Holtby’s defence of the spinster against interwar prejudice that castigated the spinster as sexually frustrated and psychological abnormal. By subverting Charlotte Brontë’s romance narratives for an interwar ‘feminine middlebrow’ readership, Holtby valorises women’s work in the community. The third chapter addresses the fascist veneration of motherhood, analysing how Holtby recognises and assimilates the feminist potential of Alfred Adler’s theory of Individual Psychology to her anti-fascist critique

Topics: PR
OAI identifier:

Suggested articles


  1. (1992). A Vindication of Political Virtue (Chicago: doi
  2. (2001). Inventing Herself- Claiming a Feminist Intellectual Heritage (New York: Scribner,
  3. (1997). The Clear Stream: A Life of Winifred Holtby (London: Virago,

To submit an update or takedown request for this paper, please submit an Update/Correction/Removal Request.