Wednesday, 21 March 2012

'Psychological Governance’, Nuns and the 'Wayward Girl'

A series of pieced-together extracts from a series of articles regarding certain religious houses for ‘morally wayward girls’ that existed through the 1950s and even up until the 1970s, offering “shelter and guidance to vulnerable girls and women.”

“The Sisters and courts working together decided when a girl was ready to leave the Home, but since the courts in turn relied on the Mother Supior's recomendations, her word was effectively law" and woe betide the girl who threatened the status quo - or who she took a shine to!
"Security and rehabilitation were big issues. The girls could not be trusted and neither could the outside world. To prevent residents from seeing the outside world and leaving the Home, locked doors and opaque glass had been installed behind barred windows, barbed wire fences, and alarm systems. There was no television, nor radio; listening to music was allowed, though the girls weren’t allowed to listen to male voices. [At mealtimes] the girls [were obliged to maintain] silence as they entered the dining room and sat down. Two nuns supervised lunch from an elevated platform and they frequently used the time to read and censor the girls' mail. In the dormitory, [each girl’s] toiletries [had to be kept] lined up with precision, with each item being assigned a specific placement.

Though these measures appeared harsh for some; for others, it offered protection and safety and enabled to them to concentrate on [rehabilitation]. In the sewing room, the girls and nuns made school uniforms, all clothing being [marked with a number, designating the individual girl.].”

From another source we hear of the “unfortunate necessity” to employ “certain drastic measures and remedies [in order] to control the risk of the introduction and spread of head lice”. And that although “alternatives were available and marketed at very little expense”, a preventative approach was to be preferred and “conferred certain other advantages”. The article goes on to guardedly hint at these ‘advantages’ pertaining to “good order and discipline” and to “the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience”. We are left in blissful, blameless ignorance as to the details of these ‘unfortunate’ “drastic measures and remedies” and their ramifications – but we might hazard a guess.

Here again there is mention of the importance of an “emphasis on silence as a means of focussing attention on God”, “frugality in all things” and the provision of what is described as a “bare ‘maintenance diet’ – sufficient to keep from losing weight, yet [insufficient] t o risk encouraging the sin of gluttony with its associated unwarranted weight gain”. This particular institution was said to have “embodied regimented discipline”, imposed “extreme restriction on freedom of movement and privacy” and to have “embraced a culture of petty rules and restrictions” that “limited to the extreme [the] opportunities [for] forming personal one to one relationships between inmates”. The emphasis throughout was “one of conformity” with a “reliance on corporal punishment [for the maintenance] of discipline and good order”.

Elsewhere, albeit regarding an entirely separate establishment, it is somewhat enigmatically stated that “…the more closely [the institution] is modelled on the judicious application of the principle of psychological governance, the more salutary will be its discipline, and the fewer occasions will arise for resort to actual [physical] punishment”.

What this cryptic ‘principle of psychological governance’ might have consisted of is not expanded upon. However, it is noteworthy that in the same pamphlet it goes on to state that: “…any physical chastisement [may] consist of moderate childish punishment with the hand or punishments with the cane, strap, or birch” and that “only a light cane or rod [should] be used for the purpose of corporal punishment inflicted on an open palm”. Certain orders of nuns had experience of setting up and governing correctional facilities for women stretching back three hundred years or more, so one may assume that they knew what they were doing when it came to exercising control – psychological or otherwise – and that any young woman, however blameless, once delivered in to their hands would have quickly come to the conclusion that defiance was not an option. Nor was the likelihood of absconding particularly buoying, as I am given to understand it – after all the nuns had had time aplenty to refine the security precautions surrounding their ‘sanctuary for wayward young women’. And security was essential if they were to protect a young woman from further sin – even if (particularly if, some would say) that ‘sin’ or ‘moral infraction’ amounted to little more than having run from a craftily manipulative stepparent, an intolerably overbearing governess or a cruelly exploitative and equally manipulative guardian or indeed just having foolhardily rejected certain amorous advances.

One should never lose sight of that old “Victorian propensity to commit errant wives and stepdaughters to the asylum at the drop of a hat (or at the hint of an inheritance)”. And often a charitable donation made to such an institution spoke volumes, certainly carrying as much weight, if not more, than a learned doctor’s opinion (although the latter could be easily enough swayed if one had sufficient influence). There seems little doubt that certain of these ecclesiastical ‘shelters’ may well have fulfilled a similar purpose, a simple statement attesting to the poor thing’s ‘hysterical instability’, propensity to ‘overwrought imaginings’ and ‘delusion and derangement’ being enough to ensure that none would pay heed to any objections, accusations or entreaties the pretty, doe-eyed teenager might voice. Some mention of sexual impropriety included in the documentation, and a ‘well appointed’ buxom teenager could be assured a very hard time indeed under the reforming hand of the Mother Superior. And of course there was the added attraction of the possibility of visitation and the knowledge that any complaints, especially as such became - as they were sure to over time - more insistent and hysterical, would simply be recorded as yet more evidence of “the poor thing’s mental aberration”; more evidence to be recounted to the governors of the local asylum when the time came, should that be her guardian’s or stepmother’s wish.

The nun’s own isolation was sacrosanct and they had not been averse to adopting new modern ways over time to ensure it remained so. Similarly, it seems they had not been fazed when it came to applying modern methods to wielding the rigid control over their charges they deemed necessary in order to protect the more defiant, incorrigible and diffident of their young inmates ‘from themselves’ and once again one’s imagination is stimulated to muse over the cryptic use of that term; ‘psychological governance’.


Anonymous said...

I love that first illustration.

It is an old friend that has been ccropping up - first in books and now on the net - since at least the early seventies. Quite probably it is fifty years older than that, but the early seventies is when I myself first started seeking out spanking stuff.

I was incredibly young and niaive in those days, but even I realised the blatent sexuality of this picture. The slighter (younger?) girl seems to be positively sticking out her bottom as though to invite the kiss of the martinet and birch. Her companion wears a peculiar expression - not a smile exactly, but she certainly does not seem overly concerned about the upcoming chastisement. The nun IS smiling, a tight controlled smile, but a smile for sooth! You can tell that there is a lot of blood rushing around beneath that habit.

And there is a definite touch of the exotic about it. Those particular instruments - a cane and a strap would be banal, but a birch and a whip seemed foreign and exciting. Well, that is how it seeemed to a provincial Brit forty years ago.

Magic. Just magic.

Toyntanen said...

Hi ‘Anonymous’ I have been collecting and perusing spanking orientated literature since the early 80s and have quite a lot of stuff going back to the late 70s but I have never come across either of these illustrations an any printed form, at least insofar as I can recall. But interests change over the years and it could well be that they would not have grabbed my attention in the same way back then.

My impression, stylistically, is that they may date back to the turn of the centaury (19th-20th) but equally it could be that an artist or illustrator was simply choosing to evoke something of that era.

I just wish I could tell where I downloaded them from, though they might have been sent to me in email – I just cant remember now, and I have a collection on my computer going back at least 12 years if not 15 in some instances. I’ll have to get around to scanning more illustrations in from those old magazines and books before they get lost forever and it cheers me to come across evidence of others doing so.

Toyntanen said...

"imreadonly2" has left a new comment but once again, although Blogger flagged the fact up via email no actual comment seems to have appeared and so I am forwarding it on his behalf.

'imreadonly2' said: "It would seem that an otherwise proper young woman admitted to the reformatory by mere chance -- for example a mistaken name spelling in the clerk's office -- might have a very difficult time getting released.

It's easy to see how even a visitor -- perhaps a young woman visiting to check on the welfare of the girls -- might find herself permanently confined, if her name ended up on the wrong list.

Once confined the young woman would face a system carefully designed to imprison her indefinitely, with the levers of release placed tantalizingly out of her grasp. What agony it must be for her to watch the postman arrive at the gates each day, knowing that a letter to her husband or father might set her free!

No matter. Best for her to concentrate on her work, and the just and wholesome correction the institution provides, for the power to release herself has been stripped from her, snipped off like her fancy clothes and her dirty, lice-magnet hair."

Anonymous said...

"Psychological governance". I like that phrase. It's very descriptive.
Because really, psychological governance is the most powerful and effective type. Because if you have that, then it really becomes impossible to sin, or rebel, or disobey, or whatever. Resistance, as they say, is futile.

The Non Victorian Chick

Toyntanen said...

Hi again , ‘Non Victorian Chick’!

Have you ever read anything on the principle of conditioned social compliance? I know it sounds stuffy (and potentially it could be) but open up the imagination and all things become possible. The thing is, it furnishes that all-important (to me at least) thread of plausibility. It is obviously at work in the institutionalised environments portrayed but may equally as active put to work in the domestic environment, given a sufficiently astute governess, guardian or stepparent.

The most important experiment on socially conditioned obedience to authority was probably that conducted by Stanley Milgram (1963 at Yale) in his “electric shock” study, which looked at the role an authority figure plays in shaping behaviour. Whereas the so-called ‘Stanford Experiment’ (which inspired the subtitle of my first novel) carried out by Philip George Zimbardo in 1973 or thereabouts (guess where).famously demonstrated “conformity to given roles in the social world”.

Before the start of the latter study, which took place in a simulated prison environment, all participants were screened for psychological normality before then being randomly assigned the roles of either prisoner or guard whereas in INSTITUTIONALISED volume 1 those in a position of authority have actually been pre-screened for their propensity to abuse their position of power and naturally dominant disposition. Plucked from the world of psychiatric nursing and chosen for a tendency to demonstrate more than a merely professional interest in the sort of attractive young women to be placed in their care, these woman are placed in total unquestionable control of three small groups of teenagers (screened as much for their intractability as psychological normality) living under prison, strict boarding school or Victorian workhouse / reform school regimes.

Those in authority are furnished with the sort of medical or other uniforms that tend to tend to be taken as a badge of that authority – that of the British hospital matron of old, or the overbearing Ward Sister, or indeed the traditional strict English governess. Those placed in their care wear what ever they are given – and as someone wrote somewhere ” a caning takes on a much more effective dimension when [a girl] is dressed in a suitably strict, prim school uniform”.

Anonymous said...

I also enjoyed the ideas of "preventative measures" to prevent louse infection. The use of harsh disinfectants and and the cropping (or removal) of hair reinforces the idea the young women under correction are filthy beasts, almost subhuman, who must be managed like livestock. The numbering, disinfecting, gang showers, emphasize this theme, and also the idea that the girls must be 'dirty' or 'bad' in some fundamental way.

As for the choice of staff, Garth, the very traits that might make a woman a good prisoner in one person eyes might make her an excellent guard in your scenario.

A lesbian street hoodlum might make a particularly effective matron, for example, particularly if she were charged with guarding the female prosectuor and the female judge who once condemned her to correction.


Anonymous said...

I've read about the Milgram experiment, and I read about Zimbardo in social psych in college, but I never heard of "socially conditioned compliance" until now. I may read up on it. Obviously, you know more about psychology than I do. To me, plausibility matters, a lot.

If they had just magically zapped Lavinia or Susan into compliance by swinging a shiny watch in front of them, and saying "your eyes are getting are now in my power...", that would have been lame. It was the deep, scary, profound, and PLAUSIBLE psychological changes that made the stories work for me.

The Non Victorian Chick

Toyntanen said...

Hi 'Non Victorian Girl'

"It was the deep, scary, profound, and PLAUSIBLE psychological changes that made the stories work for me."

Me too! And it is that 'socially conditioned compliance' thing (to get it right this time) that makes our young subject / subjects so amenable to such subtle (and not so subtle at times) psychological manipulation.

It is that propensity to obey those in police uniforms or trust nurse's or the white coats that tend to be equated with doctors and 'those that know best'.

Anonymous said...

The first illustration is by an artist who went by the name of Louis Malteste (French 1870-1920). If you enlarge the posted illustration you can make out his signature. In addition to producing formal works of art he also illustrated erotic French novels. More of his outstanding spanking illustrations can be found on the web by searching his name.