Sexualising emigration: discourses on Irish female migration in the 1930s

Ryan, Louise (2002) Sexualising emigration: discourses on Irish female migration in the 1930s. Women's Studies International Forum, 25 (1) . pp. 51-65. ISSN 0277-5395 [Article] (doi:10.1016/S0277-5395(02)00214-5)


This article examines the discourses and debates about women's emigration from Ireland in the 1930s. Drawing upon some of the numerous discussions of emigration in the Irish national and provincial press, I argue that women's emigration was represented through the lens of sexuality, reproduction, and maternity. The sexualisation of female emigration took place on three distinct but interconnected levels. First, the exodus of thousands of young, unmarried women was represented as a loss of ‘breeding stock’. A second related discourse focused on the sexual behaviour of these women when they arrived in Britain. My research also has uncovered a third, less-vocalised discourse. Some commentators claimed that a considerable number of Irish young women were being forced to emigrate because they were pregnant or had committed some other breach of sexual mores. Such ‘sexual deviance’ did not fit with the narrow sexual morality propounded by the Catholic Church and the state. To understand the discourses surrounding Irish women's emigration in the 1930s, I draw upon Floya Anthias and Nira Yuval-Davis's theorisation of the biological reproduction of the nation. I also suggest that women's role as ‘mothers of the nation’ was central to the nation-building project in the newly established Irish Free State. However, the image of the domestic, motherly Irish ‘woman’ simplifies the complexities of Irish women's experiences and their roles within various collectivities. A broader examination of women's role in relation to familial and local communities, as well as the nation, may help to illuminate some of the complexities around women's high rate of emigration.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > School of Law
A. > School of Law > Criminology and Sociology
A. > School of Law > Social Policy Research Centre
Item ID: 3616
Depositing User: Repository team
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2010 11:57
Last Modified: 27 Mar 2017 15:41

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