A History of Gender in America: Essays, Documents, and Articles

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9780130122254: A History of Gender in America: Essays, Documents, and Articles

This book summarizes what historians of gender have written and introduces readers to the most recent literature on the history of gender in the United States. Gender Identities in the English Colonies. Masculinity in the North and South. Femininity in the North and South. Gender and Work. Gender and Sport. For anyone who is interested in an in-depth discussion of American Gender Identities, how gender conventions change over time, and what factors have influenced those changes.

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A History of Gender in America introduces students to the concept of gender and the way that ideas about masculinity and femininity have been defined and contested from the colonial period through the twentieth century in the United States. It allows students to reflectively analyze and develop a sophisticated and complex picture not only of how men and women in the past have constructed their personal identities and conducted their lives, but also how the power to do so has been negotiated and distributed.

Combining introductory essays that survey the literature on the history of gender, as well as documents, articles, study questions, and bibliographies, a mixture of chronological and topical chapters offers teachers the material they need to explore with their students such questions as:

  • How does gender contribute to the way historical knowledge is organized and presented?
  • What factors have been most important in determining how gender is constructed in any particular period in American history?
  • Whose interests do gender conventions serve?
  • What causes ideas about gender to change?
  • How do those changes take place?
  • What are the results of those changes?
  • What influence do factors like race, class, ethnicity, sexual preference, and geographical location have on the construction of gender?
  • How do men and women solve problems in their everyday lives using culturally constructed notions of gender?

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The history of gender in America is a relatively new field of inquiry. In 1986, Joan W. Scott published an essay, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis," in which she called on historians to add a consideration of the influence of gender on human experience to their repertoire of analytical tools. Since then, ever increasing numbers of historians have begun to systematically study the way that gender has influenced the course of American history. They have attempted to analyze how masculinity and femininity have been constructed and experienced and how ideas about gender have changed over time.

At this point, however, both the quantity and quality of books and articles on the subject are still very uneven. For example, some scholars use the term "gender" as a very specific reference point for analyzing what being a man or a woman meant in various periods in American history. Others use the term as a descriptive rather than an analytical tool, substituting it for the words "man" or "woman" in their histories of human accomplishment. Other problems plague the field as well. Historians have paid more attention to the construction of gender in some periods in American history than in others. There is a substantial body of literature on how gender was constructed and contested during the nineteenth century in various regions of the United States. But historical analysis of how gender was defined and negotiated in the twentieth century is comparatively thin and tends to ignore regional differences. Historians have also paid more attention to the construction of masculinity than they have to the construction of femininity. And until very recently, they have tended to ignore issues of diversity. This is particularly true of historical research on masculinity. Not only does much of it focus on white men, it focuses on those who were middle-class and native-born. Studies on the social construction of femininity are more likely to specifically address the significance of factors such as race, class, and ethnicity. But even so, there is a great deal more information on the gendered identities of white, native-born women than there is on women of other races or ethnic backgrounds. The field of gender studies is developing at a rapid pace. And as it does, new research will give us a clearer and more detailed picture of the influence that gender has had on the lives of various groups of Americans and will fill in the chronological gaps that exist in the literature.

The purpose of this book is to provide college undergraduates with an introduction to the most recent literature on the history of gender in the United States as well as the sources upon which some of this literature is based. Each chapter ii1cludes a short introduction explaining the context of the period or subject in que9tion and describing what other scholars have discovered about how femininity and masculinity were defined in that context or period. With the exception of Chapter One, a section of primary documents follows each introduction. These documents are intended to illustrate some of the generalizations discussed in the introductions. Following the documents is an article or articles that illustrate the ways that historians have approached the study of gender. At the end of each chapter, you will find a section that contains suggestions for further reading. This list is not intended to be definitive. Rather, it is a list of books and articles for those who want to pursue a particular topic in more detail. Together, these components are intended to provide the reader with a sense of how gender has been constructed in America and how those constructions have changed over time. They are also intended to provoke questions and prompt discussion about the role that gender has played in the lives of Americans past and present.

This book has two sections. The first is organized chronologically so that students can develop a general understanding of which gender conventions have been most important to the construction of American gender identities, how gender conventions change over time, and which factors have influenced those changes. It covers the period from the onset of English colonization in the early seventeenth century to 1975. The chronological categories that I have used reflect the way that the literature on the history of gender has been presented. The ending date, 1975, is not an altogether arbitrary one. It simply reflects the fact that historians concerned with issues of gender had not shown much interest in systematically studying the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The second section is organized topically in order to provide students with an in-depth analysis of how attitudes toward gender have affected the ways Americans have experienced sexuality, sports, violence, and work. This section builds on the first in the sense that I have assumed in writing the introductory essays for the last four chapters that students have mastered the general outline of how gender conventions have changed over time in American history and that they are sensitive to those factors that cause gender conventions to change. I have included this comparatively short, topical section for three reasons. First, as I did my research for this book, it became apparent that because the literature on these particular topics was so vast, it would be impossible to do justice to it in only a few paragraphs scattered among eleven chronological chapters. My second reason is that the regional distinctions that are so important to many aspects of gender history have less relevance for these topics. And third, I set aside a discrete part of the book for these subjects because it became clear to me that they had special appeal to the students who were taking my gender history classes. For whatever reasons, students feel that these topics are particularly relevant to their lives and spoke to their immediate concerns.

Like most textbooks, this history of gender has no footnotes. In writing the introductions to each chapter I have relied on the original research of hundreds of scholars, most of whom are listed in the "Suggestions for Further Reading" section of each chapter. It is to them and their pioneering work that I dedicate this book.

Before we proceed, a few words about vocabulary are in order. In this text I will be using the terms manhood, manliness, and masculinity interchangeably. I use them to refer to any set of images, values, interests, and activities that a man or group of men hold to be important in the achievement of manhood. I use the terms womanhood, womanliness, and femininity in a similar way.

I will also be using a variety of sociological terms in the introductions to each chapter. The way I use them is defined below.

  • Sex a word used to describe a person's biological condition; a set of physical/ anatomical characteristics based on chromosomes, hormones, and reproductive capacity.
  • Gender the cultural meaning given to an individual's sex; a social condition based on anatomical characteristics.
  • Gender ideal the cluster of characteristics, behavior patterns, and values that members of a group think a man or a woman should have; a set of cultural expectations.
  • Gender convention the way most people in a particular group express their manliness or womanliness.
  • Gender construction the process by which individuals both unconsciously and consciously go about defining for themselves what it means to be a man or a woman.
  • Gender identity the way a person experiences being masculine or feminine.

Sylvia D. Hoffert
Chapel Hill

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