A Final Look at America’s Patriarchy: Homophobia, Sexism, and the Gender Binary

Over the course of the semester, these blogs have addressed the influence of the white patriarchy on sexuality and gender throughout American history. In the past few weeks, we have learned about American sexuality in the late 20th century and into the present day. Unsurprisingly, the white patriarchy still exists, determining what constitutes “normal” and “abnormal” sexuality and gender identity. We see blatant homophobia during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and 1990s; parents unable to grasp identities other than “male” or “female”; and double standards favoring men in this age of “hookup culture”. Nancy Jo Sales’ article “Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse,”” Margaret Talbot’s article “About a Boy,” and sources found in Kathy Peiss’ Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality all show attempts of patriarchal society to push heteronormativity through homophobia, sexism, or the gender binary.

The controversy of gay bathhouses and other “sex establishments” during the AIDS epidemic highlights homophobic thought in America. Examining Ronald Bayer’s “AIDS and the Bathhouse Controversy,” one sees the blame put on gay men for the spread of AIDS and the limitations on their sexual expression because of this homophobic fear. To a number of gay men, these establishments were safe spaces and represented sexual freedom; moreover, the closure of these establishments only inhibited gay people, encouraging antigay violence and limiting sexual expression (Bayer, 480).  This elimination of safe spaces, along with the questionable correlation between bathhouses and the spread of AIDS, shows the targeted discrimination against gay people (Bayer, 478). Documented health inspection reports of these establishments only add to the notion of homophobia, noting that “three of the major risk behaviors associated with the transmission of the virus are anal intercourse, fellatio and vaginal intercourse” (Peiss, 455). In other words, sex caused the spread of AIDS. Not just sex between two men, but sex between anyone; yet, heterosexual couples were not targeted. Heterosexual couples were not told to adjust their sexual expressions. Heterosexual couples were not given the blame. This was discrimination against a sexually “abnormal” group. This was homophobia.

In addition to homophobia, modern America pushes its hetero-norms through manifestations of sexism. To find an example of sexist culture, one can look at present-day America’s “hookup culture.” Looking at Sales’ “Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse,”” a double standard becomes painstakingly obvious. The sexism goes beyond objectifying women based on their Tinder profile pictures or judging them for having anonymous sex. Interviews of various men in this article reveal multiple manifestations of sexism: rating women based on “a mix of how good they are in bed and how attractive they are” and claiming it empowers them; judging women for using the same dating app the men are using, claiming the women are not worthy of marriage; and sending uninvited “dick pics” or exploiting nude pictures a woman sent are just a few examples of sexist behavior (Sales, “Tinder”). It seems men make the rules in hookup culture, congratulating each other for the same behavior women are judged for.

One final example of heteronormative America’s control of sexuality and gender is the push of the gender binary. The gender binary forces people to choose between two distinct classifications: male or female. This binary is present from birth; people are assigned a gender based on their biological sex. This binary influences expected behavior, like whether we play with dolls or action figures or wear skirts or pants. These may be individual choices, but when a person makes a choice that defies the gender norm (i.e. a male wearing a dress), society notices, and judgement arises. In “About a Boy,” Talbot discusses the gender binary’s influence in binary-defying gender identities. Talbot brings up the need parents of gender-nonconforming children feel to classify them within a binary, wanting to ask their kids if they “want to be called he or she” and if they are “trans or not” (Talbot, 63-64). Like Noelle says, “American people are rarely are comfortable with the idea that they do not exist solely in definable boxes.” I agree, and that is obvious in this case. It is hard for these parents to grasp gender that does not fall directly under male or female; even if the child were to identify as transgender, the parents, it seems, would expect them to start dressing in either a masculine or feminine way. One final way Talbot discusses the gender binary is in relation to all of the gender labels that are meant to defy said binary. Talbot questions the liberation that these labels offer, arguing that “they often seem predicated on stereotypical notions about men and women” (Talbot, 65). Do these identities free or restrict our behavior? Am I choosing this label because I do not fit the stereotypical masculine or feminine ideal? The fact that Talbot raises these questions in relation to identities that are supposed to break the gender binary is significant, as it seems to be assumed that the binary does not affect these identities.

America’s patriarchy has persisted through history; white, middle-class men have dominated multiple societal spheres, and sexuality is one of them. The manifestations of that control may have changed over time, but it is still about maintaining power and order. Sexualities or genders that do not fit the norm are othered. Gay people were given the blame for the spread of AIDS instead of heterosexuals, despite the fact that vaginal sex was one of the major risk behaviors associated with the spread. Women using dating apps are objectified, judged, and exploited while men are congratulated for the same behavior. Gender-nonconforming children are pressured into choosing to be masculine or feminine. It’s a man’s world.



Bayer, Ronald. “AIDS and the Bathhouse Controversy,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 471-483.

“Policing Public Sex in a Gay Theater, 1995,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 454-455.

Sales, Nancy Jo, “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse’,” Vanity Fair. August 6, 2016. Accessed April 26, 2017.

Talbot, Margaret. “About a Boy,” The New Yorker. March 18, 2013. Accessed April 26, 2017.

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Remaking the World (for Middle Class White Men)

One thing that really stuck in my mind whilst reading the three sources this week was the gay liberation movement, perhaps because it was the primary focus of two of the readings and an entire chapter in Sex in the Heartland; regardless, what stuck in my mind goes beyond the revolutionary change that the gay liberation movement brought about. The gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s was significant, there is no denying that; it challenged heteronormative America, and it faced multifaceted oppression head-on. However, it was also exclusive. It was dominated by white middle class men, and there was not enough racial, class, gender, and other sexual identity representation. Looking at Beth Bailey’s Sex in the Heartland, John D’Emilio’s “My Changing Sex Life,” and Jeffrey Escoffier’s “Fabulous Politics: Gay, Lesbian, and Queer Movements, 1969-1999,” we see the gay liberation movement’s challenge to heteronormative American culture and the creation of a new culture but also its lack of diversity.

The gay liberation movement helped to turn the sexual revolution into a cultural revolution. It changed American culture by creating a culture of its own. This culture celebrated sex and the gay identity, and it provided spaces where gay men could feel a sense of community. The dances described in Sex in the Heartland exemplify this transition of gay life into the public sphere, as they served as safe spaces (to an extent, as there were harassments). Bailey states that “the dances moved gay liberation from… private (what two people do in the privacy of the bedroom) to a very public, embodied fact” (2516-2517). Gay people were creating their own culture and their own spaces, and as Bailey puts it, “they were simply enjoying who they were” (2519-2520). John D’Emilio confirms this in “My Changing Sex Life.” D’Emilio asserts that his personal experience in the counterculture and gay liberation movement “impelled [him] a host of other values, among them the embrace of sex as good in and of itself, of sexual pleasure as transformative of individual lives and social structures” (D’Emilio, 203). Beyond the sexual aspect of gay liberation, the movement changed American culture by challenging traditional gender roles. According to Bailey “gay and lesbian activists argued that socially prescribed masculine and feminine roles not only created a gulf between men and women but circumscribed the potential of all human relationships” (2862-2863). Gay liberationists pushed for the transcendence of the restrictive notions of masculine and feminine. Essentially, the gay liberationists refused to conform. When D’Emilio describes his realization that oppression was actually about injustice instead of constraints on sexuality, he explains that the essence of injustice “is the insistent requirement of conformity” (D’Emilio, 208). By challenging America’s heteronormative culture and creating a culture of its own that publicly celebrated sex and the gay identity, gay liberationists refused to conform.

Now we must examine the negative. The challenge to traditional America and the creation of public gay culture are both great accomplishments of the gay liberation movement; however, it is important to recognize the lack of diversity in this movement. Examining the three readings from this week, we can plainly see this. The bulk of this discussion is in Escoffier’s “Fabulous Politics.” Escoffier points out that “gay men were often no less misogynists than most heterosexual men,” causing many gay women to break their ties with gay organizations to focus on the feminist movement (Escoffier, 198). Sexism did not just disappear in gay culture. In these readings, there is little information about lesbian-specific issues or accomplishments. Why? Because male-dominated culture consumed the gay liberation movement. Bailey describes that in 1970 San Francisco “gay liberationists circulated a manifesto… explicitly for and about gay men, not lesbians” (2405-2406). The white patriarchy was very much intact in the gay liberation movement, perhaps just as much as in mainstream American society at the time. Beyond sexism, this gay liberation movement was of the white middle class. Turning again to Escoffier, he tells us that “discrimination and racism directed toward people of color existed throughout the gay community,” and that “gay men and lesbians of color also faced racial discrimination in housing and employment and therefore did not have the same opportunities that white homosexuals did” (Escoffier, 200). Oppression for gay people of color was coming from both sides. They had to face racism along with homophobia and transphobia. One final note about the exclusivity of the 1960s-1970s gay liberation movement is its assertion of the gay/straight binary. Noelle’s blog this week highlights this, stating “gay culture also fell short of inclusivity of all sexual orientations,” alienating people who identified as neither straight nor gay. As Escoffier notes, many lesbians and gay men… believed neither in bisexuality nor in the reality of polymorphous desire” (Escoffier, 197).

The gay liberation movement of the late 1960s and the 1970s was revolutionary, as it challenged the norms of American society and created a culture in which gay people could celebrate their sexuality. However, it is important to recognize the exclusivity of the movement during these years, as the movement did not protect or include gay women, gay people of color, or people that did not fit into the gay/straight binary. The liberation was not for everyone.




Bailey, Beth. Sex in the Heartland. (Cambridge, MA and London, England: Harvard University Press).

(Note: page numbers for Sex in the Heartland are based off of the e-book version)

D’Emilio, John. The World Turned: Essays on Gay History, Politics, and Culture. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002). 199-209.

Escoffier, Jeffery. “Popular Sociology, Reading, and Coming Out.” In Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, edited by Kathy Peiss, Page 393-403. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.

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Completely Reasonable and Not at All Restrictive Expectations of Women in the 1950s

The mid-1900s was a time of constraining and confusing sexual standards. There were many expectations placed on the 1950s woman, and there were many responsibilities she had that her male counterpart did not. A woman was expected to set the limits on appropriate sexual conduct in her dating life, to abide by parietals and restrictions on freedom as a university student, and to marry young and exhibit traditional gender roles in her family life. In specific expectations and limitations women faced, a sexual double standard became obvious: parietals were only imposed on women, only women faced incarceration when suspected of transmitting Venereal Disease, and women were the ones expected to domesticize their roles. Both Elaine Tyler May’s “Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb” and Beth Bailey’s Sex in the Heartland examine the expectations and limitations placed on women during the mid-1900s.

In the first chapters of Sex in the Heartland, Bailey gives multiple examples of expectations and limitations placed on women in the mid-1900s. One of these is the blame placed on female promiscuity for the spread of Venereal Disease in Lawrence, Kansas during the 1940s. In his blog post “Arrest those women” Garret Whitlock explains that “by jailing them for treatment men once again asserted a sort of dominance over their female counterparts… as if women were natural carriers of these VDs and the men who also partake in sexual acts with them were their victims.” Here Whitlock raises a very important point: this incarceration of solely women was an assertion of male dominance, as were the other limitations placed on women during this era. An example of such a limitation is parietals placed on women university students. Bailey explains that the parietals were solely placed on women due to a sexual double standard. Bailey writes that “young men traditionally had far fewer restrictions on their freedom, sexual and otherwise, and because colleges and universities were concerned primarily with controlling their own students, they did not find it necessary to restrict men’s movements” (Baily, 1054). Here, women students are the only ones facing this restriction, reinforcing the idea of male control. Another example of the sexual double standard is in the heterosexual dating culture of this era. In this dating culture, Bailey explains that men and women were labeled inherently different, “with different roles and interests in sex… women were the limit setters and men the aggressors” (Bailey, 1019-1020). Women were given the responsibility of deciding how much sexual contact was allowed, which could be tricky, as “while a girl was expected to “pet to be popular,” girls and women who went “too far” risked their futures” (Bailey, 1029). Any discussion on how men would be seen from acting too sexually, however, is absent. Women were the ones targeted here; women were the ones who would be held responsible.

These are just a few of the examples in Sex in the Heartland of the gendered expectations and limitations placed on women of the mid-1900s. One could go much further into this, looking at the lack of police and administrative response to calls for help from KU women’s residence halls surrounded by crowds of men (Bailey, 603). One could even point to the “Junior Hostess League” and the exclusion of women who weren’t deemed morally upright enough to attend the dances while all men in uniform were allowed. The point of all of this is that women were held to different, and often stricter and less fair standards as men at this time.

In “Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb” May also outlines the responsibilities and limitations placed on women during the mid-1900s. May explains that as a way to contain sexuality, early marriage was encouraged, and “it was the woman’s responsibility to achieve it” with guidebooks stressing “the need for young women to cultivate good looks, personality, and cheerful subservience” if they hope to achieve the goal of finding a husband (May, 159). Not only was a woman expected to marry by a certain age, she was also expected look and act in ways that would help her “achieve” this goal. Beyond the responsibility of achieving marriage, women were expected to take on total domestic responsibility when married. May explains that in “it was up to women to achieve successful families,” and if they succeeded in their motherly duties, “they would be able to rear children who would avoid juvenile delinquency, stay in school, and become future scientists and experts to defeat the Russians in the cold war” (May, 163). Married women were faced with the responsibility of raising the future generation. Here, responsibility placed on the women of this era has a greater national implication. Again, this familial responsibility is that of the woman, and it was an expectation that women of this time would abide by traditional gender roles to fulfill this domestic expectation.

The mid-1900s came with new expectations, responsibilities, and limitations for women. Single women were held to different standards and faced different repercussions than their male counterparts. It is important to note that much of the above discussion applies to the middle class of the era described (other than the point about VD incarceration, in which working-class women were largely targeted). Both Elaine Tyler May’s “Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb” as well as Beth Bailey’s Sex in the Heartland highlight and examine the expectations, responsibilities, and limitations placed distinctively on women during this era.




Bailey, Beth. Sex in the Heartland. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999.

May, Elaine Tyler. “Explosive Issues: Sex, Women, and the Bomb”.


(Note: page numbers for Sex in the Heartland are based off of the e-book version)

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Contraception Misconceptions and the Consequences

There is a common theme found in both the birth control and sterilization movements: that of misconception and its consequences. In regards to the birth control movement, people like Anthony Comstock misconceived who took contraception, thinking promiscuous unmarried people (or married people looking to cheat on their partners) were the buyers; the consequence of this was its effect on the poor married women who actually needed it, and the further poverty and death it caused them. Secondly, there was the misconception of the “bad” mother promoted by supporters of the sterilization movement, and the consequences on often non-consenting working-class people targeted. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the birth control movement and the sterilization movement were both plagued by misconceptions, and these misconceptions largely resulted in consequences affecting the working-class.

Misconceptions came from Comstock supporters who believed that legal contraception would promote promiscuity in American society. Andrea Tone outlines the beliefs of the Social Purity Crusaders well in “Black Market Birth Control: Contraceptive Entrepreneurship and Criminality in the Gilded Age” when she says their fear was in the idea that contraceptives freed “sex from the constraints of marriage and childbearing” (Tone, 440). People like Comstock believed contraceptives were abused by the unmarried, or married people looking to cheat on their spouses; however, was this the case? Who was actually using contraceptives, and who was affected by the illegality of them? Perhaps to the surprise of people like Comstock, many married couples sought birth control. Tone’s story of the Janins, newlyweds seeking birth control because of Violet’s physical health issues, outlines this and highlights an important aspect that Comstock and his associates either didn’t consider or didn’t care about: many married people were taking contraception out of necessity. To take this a step further many working-class married people were taking contraception out of necessity. As Iris notes in “The Increasing Politicization of Sexual Bodies,” Comstock supporters “were incredibly classist and sexist in their hunt against sexual materials and birth control.” I definitely agree with this, and I would like to expand on that classism in regards to birth control.

To highlight this idea, we can turn to four letters written to Margaret Sanger, as all were written by married women and all four women expressed monetary issues. One woman wrote “[I] don’t think it is right to go on raising children when [I] know [I] have nothing to feed or clothe them on” (Peiss, 317). Another explained she never learned “the facts that a young girl should know” and that she’d never even heard of Birth Control Clinics (Peiss, 318). So, what is the result of withholding information and resources from these women? Larger families and/or increased infant mortality, according to Margaret Sanger. Sanger wrote that “large families and poverty went hand in hand” and that “three hundred thousand babies under one year of age die in the United States every year from poverty and neglect” (Sanger, 312-313). It is the working-class that suffered from the illegality of birth control, and, despite the misconception, many were married.

Similar to proponents of the Comstock Act, proponents of the sterilization movement created a mistaken belief that there existed “bad” mothers who should not have the right to reproduce. In “Eugenics, Sterilization, and Social Welfare,” Molly Ladd-Taylor describes this created misconception and its unfortunate consequences targeting working-class women, saying proponents of sterilization created an image “of the irresponsible and sexually active “bad” mother, unfit to raise – or even bear – the nation’s citizens” (Ladd-Taylor, 329). Carry Buck is an example of the consequences working-class women faced because of this image. Buck, an unmarried mother, was deemed unfit to have children and “feebleminded,” and the Supreme Court upheld her forced sterilization because “her welfare and that of society [would] be promoted” (Whitehead, 316). Carry Buck was not “feebleminded.” She was a working-class single mother who was targeted due to class bias. The implications extend beyond Buck, as “a substantial number of the more than 33,000 people legally sterilized by 1939 had the procedure done without their knowledge or against their will” (Ladd-Taylor, 330). The consequence of this false image of the “bad” mother was that working-class women were targets of sterilization; Ladd-Taylor states that working-class people “were three times as likely to be sterilized” (Ladd-Taylor, 332). The consequences of this misconception of the “bad” mother created by proponents of sterilization extend into modern-day America. Ladd-Taylor writes that mothers on welfare are sometimes court-ordered to use contraception and they can be denied benefits “if they do not work, go to school, or even – for those under 18 – if they do not live at home” (Ladd-Taylor, 336).

Misconceptions can have harsh consequences, as is evidenced by those of the proponents of the Comstock Act and the proponents of sterilization. The working-class was and is largely affected by misconceptions regarding sexuality. The image of the “bad” mother still exists today, despite its invalidity. Women’s rights to affordable contraception is still debated, despite the need. Because of modern-day similarities, it is important to look at history’s misconceptions and their consequences.


Ladd-Taylor, Molly. “Eugenics, Sterilization, and Social Welfare.” In Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 327-336.

Sanger, Margaret. “The Case for Birth Control,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 311-314.

Tone, Andrea. “Black Market Birth Control: Contraceptive Entrepreneurship and Criminality in the Gilded Age,” Journal of American History 87.2 (Sep. 2000) 435-459.

“Women Write Margaret Sanger for Birth Control Advice, 1924, 1930, 1935, 1936,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 316-318.

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Battles for Control: The White Patriarchy Revisited

During the Post-Civil War Era, the white patriarchy faced new threats to its dominance. In response to these threats, it engaged in different “battles” to maintain power.  In Tuesday’s readings, we were introduced to the battle over language: the battle between “Free Lovers” and Victorian moralists; the battle of the white middle class. For Thursday, we read about the battle between white patriarchy and black men, black women, and white women to maintain their racial and sexual hierarchical power. The commonality between this week’s readings is the theme of the white patriarchy’s battle to maintain their power: in the battle over language, the Free Lovers argued that Victorian moralists dominated society through their control of language; in the battle for racial and sexual hierarchy, white men wanted to suppress any sense of manliness in black males, assert the treatment of women as objects, and specifically assert the view of black women as sexual objects.

As Angela discusses in her blog post “Race Suicides and Homicides,” white southerners used “physical violence to “promote” their cause” of maintaining the racial hierarchy, and this physical violence was largely through lynching (https://blogs.lt.vt.edu/arara97/2017/03/15/race-suicides-and-homicides/).  At the base of maintaining the racial hierarchy, white southerners would undermine the masculinity of black men, and they did this in gruesome ways. An example of this is in William H. Stallings statement on Ku Klux Klan lynchings, in which he details one man who was “taken out into the woods, a hole dug in the ground and a block buried in it, and his penis taken out, and a nail driven through it into the block” (Stallings, 154). This horrible mutilation is a symbol of removing manliness from the victim. As Jacquelyn Dowd Hall highlights, “lynching served as a tool of psychological intimidation” aimed at black males, and violent acts such as this sent a terrifying message to black men (Hall, 330). The hierarchy was largely about keeping black men out of political and economic power, and violent assertions of lack of manliness was a major tool used to do this.

I would take this idea of hierarchy a step further and argue that they were also maintaining the dominance of their gender. In addition to physical violence, white southerners used sexual violence. This sexual violence was used as a tool to both undermine black men’s manliness and assert dominance over black women. Black women, in contrast to white women, were deemed inherently sexual. As Hall puts it, “the fear and fascination of female sexuality was projected onto black women; the passionless lady arose in symbiosis with the primitively sexual slave” (Hall, 333). So, black women were attacked based on their race and gender.

The white patriarchy also asserted dominance over white women, and this manifested itself differently depending on what class women belonged to. Middle and upper class white women were “the forbidden fruit, the untouchable property, the ultimate symbol of white male power” (Hall, 334). Objects to have power over rather than individuals. On the other hand, working class white women were not protected as middle to upper class white women were. Hodes writes that “white women whom Klansmen and their sympathizers judged to be lacking in virtue were subject to abuse ranging from insulting language to rape,” and this usually fell on women of the working class (Hodes, 410).

In a very different way, the battle over language during the Post-Civil War years also concerned white male control. For one, the leaders of the Free Lovers included women such as Angela Heywood who called out this issue as one that had always been controlled by men. According to Battan, Heywood “was inspired by her belief that a new language would equalize the relationship between men and women” one in which “the dialogue…had always been lopsided, in favor of men” (Battan, 259). Heywood argued that men had always had the advantage in this debate of speech. This is supported when Battan notes that the people empowered to speak in public about sexuality were “clergymen, physicians, and moral reformers,” professions mostly associated with men (Battan, 234). This Victorian sexual ideology was led by moral reformists such as the politically influential and socially powerful Anthony Comstock, for example. Heywood and other free thinkers saw their fight as one in which power needed to be taken from the dominant elites who controlled education and censorship, and ultimately the behavior and morals of society.


Battan, Jesse F. “The Word Mad Flesh,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexualitiy, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 252-264.

Hall, Jacquelyn Dowd. “The Mind That Burns in Each Body,” in Powers of Desire: The Politics of Sexuality ed. Ann Sintow, Christine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson (NY: Monthly Review Press, 1983) 328-346.

Hodes, Martha. “The Sexualization of Reconstruction Politics: White Women and Black Men in the South after the Civil War,” in Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 3, No. 3, Special Issue: African American Culture and Sexuality (University of Texas Press, 1993) 402-417.

Stallings, William H. “William H. Stallings Testifies About Ku Klux Klan Lynchings, 1871,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexualitiy, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 154.


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Never To Be Conquered

There is no denying the physical violence and oppressing exertion of power inflicted by white American slaveholders upon enslaved African Americans, but often left out of this narrative is the sexual violence and the effects it had on those who endured it. To take this a step further, it is the effects that sexual abuse had on mental health that are not discussed nearly enough. This topic became especially significant after reading Nell Irvin Painter’s essay “Soul Murder and Slavery”and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In analyzing these two pieces of writing, one finds that both address in different ways a similar concern: the effect of sexual violence on the mental health of an enslaved woman.

To, in a way, simplify the connection between the two works, one can see both as having intertwining themes of hopefulness and hopelessness. In Painter’s essay, the hopelessness stems from the author’s description of mental health concerns caused by sexual violence, including depression and low self-esteem; conversely, the hopefulness stems from Painter’s recognition that certain factors helped enslaved women overcome the damage inflicted on their psychological well-being. It is similar in Jacob’s novel, but here the focus is the mental well-being of a single person as she experiences life as a slave. Between Painter’s “Soul Murder and Slavery” and Jacobs’ Incidents of a Slave Girl is an interplay of hopefulness and hopelessness, or that of soul murder and the resistance enslaved women put up against the damage caused by sexual violence.

In her essay “Soul Murder and Slavery,” Nell Irvin Painter discusses sexual violence, a violence that often gets overlooked and overshadowed by physical violence when discussing nineteenth century institutional slavery; further, Painter discusses the psychological consequences of experiencing this type of abuse. Specifically, she uses the term “soul murder” to encompass these effects, which one can associate with the idea of hopelessness, including depression, lowered self-esteem, and anger. A significance of Painter’s essay is that it not only brings up this rarely discussed aspect of violence towards slaves, but it also explains the resistance put up by slaves to any permanent damage by this abuse. Painter explains that the support of a slave’s own family and a slave’s faith in religion served as “two essential emotional counterweights to owners’ physical and psychological assaults,” and that, through these communal support systems, “slaves could reject their masters’ assumptions that slaves were constitutionally inferior as people and that they deserved to be enslaved” (Painter, 182). In this, we see that soul murder was not absolute. The damage from the oppressors could be resisted if the community (familial, religious) was strong. There is a great example of this resistance to negative forces and experiences in Harriet Jacobs’ character of Linda. 

In Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents of a Slave Girl, the reader follows the story of Linda, a woman experiencing life as a slave. Through the unwanted sexual attention from her master, along with many other struggles, we see Linda’s mental health affected by her experiences. Linda’s psychological well-being experiences both highs and lows. The lows are the periods in which she seems hopelessness, representing what Painter calls soul murder. At these times, Linda faces depressed thoughts so severe that she wants to end her own life. Her years hidden in her grandmother’s crawl space reveal this poor mental health, as well does all of her interactions with Dr. Flint, her primary abuser. On the contrary, Linda also experiences periods of life in which she is hopeful and, to an extent, happy. We see this hope and resiliency within her character from the beginning of the novel when she is reflecting on her lack of power, exclaiming “though one of God’s powerless creatures, I resolved never to be conquered” (Jacobs, 19). Beyond her character, this hope and mental well-being come largely from her love for her children, the support of her family, and faith. Significantly, this mirrors Painter’s two forces of familial bonds and religious faith that oppose negative effects of psychological and sexual abuse.

There are a few significant thoughts to consider when reflecting on Painter’s essay, Jacobs’ novel, and the other documents in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality. First, it is significant to note that of the documents, essays, and stories read, Harriet Jacobs was the only author to actually experience that of which she wrote on (the sexual violence against enslaved women). Painter provides a well thought out analysis, but she did not experience that which she writes on. Second, the research and discussion of mental health in history is not only interesting but necessary. This is especially true for the history of the oppressed, as violence inflicted on the oppressed is a recurring theme in history. Though much of this is physical, other forms of violence and abuse exist, and the psychological effects of this violence go largely unheard of.

Jacobs, Harriet. Incidents of a Slave Girl (Boston: Dover Publications, Inc., 1861).

Painter, Nell Irvin “Soul Murder and Slavery,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexualitiy, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 109-112.


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“She Should Have Known Better”

The Antebellum Period was one in which men were treated as superior to women. Surprising? Not really, but the extent to which this statement held true is. Through the course of this week, we’ve read and analyzed works on sexuality in the Antebellum period.  In chapter four of Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality we examined different primary source documents as well as two essays on the topic. Of this chapter, this post will focus on the “A Trial for Rape in New York, 1793” and the essay “Male License and Working-Class Women’s Sexuality.” Additionally, we read Charlotte Temple by Susana Rowson. One of the most significant themes shared by these readings is that of the expectations of men versus the expectations of women, specifically the fluidity of the former compared to the strict and clear cut of the latter; moreover, it is important to examine the repercussions of this difference, specifically that of male sympathy and female blame.

In Charlotte Temple, the expectations of male sexuality vary. The three main characters of Montraville, Belcour, and Mr. Temple all represent different parts of this spectrum. Mr. Temple, being modest, virtuous, and compassionate, represents an ideal man. Conversely, Belcour, being seductive, manipulative, and selfish stands as a complete opposite type of man. However, Belcour is still accepted in society. His behavior is expected; further, the narrator argues Charlotte is to blame, saying “when once a woman has forgot the respect due to herself, by yielding to the solicitations of illicit love, they lose all their consequence” (Rowson, 58). In other words, what should Charlotte expect? She’s no longer a respectable woman, so essentially it is her fault. Belcour’s behavior is to be expected.  Charlotte and her mistakes take away her virtuosity and modesty and replace them with socially unacceptable vice. This is male sympathy. This is female blame. Below, I’ve created a visual spectrum based on the three main characters in Charlotte Temple, similar to one created in class.





In contrast, women’s sexual expectations were more exact and strict – either you were virtuous or unacceptable by society. Charlotte’s character is a perfect example. She is described as better, in terms of how a woman should be, than Mademoiselle La Rue because of her kind nature, but she is much worse than Mrs. Temple and Mrs. Beauchamp due to her mistakes. Wouldn’t we expect her to, like Montraville, land in the middle of the spectrum? No. Because of her actions, she is treated as a total outcast. Though she is not as sexual or manipulative as La Rue, according to the narrator, she deserves no respect after becoming a mistress.






The main characters can be grouped into two: Charlotte and La Rue; Mrs. Temple and Mrs. Beauchamp. Despite the narrator’s brief attempts at portraying Charlotte as better than Mademoiselle La Rue, it does not matter. Because of her choice to follow Montraville, Charlotte is still an outcast until her death. Despite the fact that Charlotte never actually makes this choice, and actually tries to say no multiple times, the blame is on her.

All of these ideas (fluid male expectations versus strict female expectations, male sympathy versus female blame) are also present in chapter four of Major Problems. We see male sympathy for Henry Bedlow in “A Trial for Rape in New York, 1793.” In this excerpt, Bedlow’s defense shows both male sympathy and female blame, as they blame Lanah Sawyer, the victim, rather than Bedlow, the accused rapist. They characterize Bedlow as “one perhaps, who will go considerable lengths in soliciting [a woman’s] consent to his wishes” but they state this is actually “by no means a circumstance against him, it is strongly in his favor” (“A Trial,” 111). Additionally, they characterize Sawyer as untrustworthy and manipulative, saying “she may have had the art to carry a fair outside, while all was foul within” (“A Trial,” 112). By doing this, they focus the attention and associated blame on Sawyer instead of Bedlow. It’s the classic case of today’s “She Should Have Known Better” rhetoric.

Adding an element to this case, Christine Stansell’s essay “Male License and Working-Class Women’s Sexuality” calls out this female blame and male sympathy, stating that Bedlow’s defense “shifted the focus of the trial from the duplicity of the seducer to the weak-mindedness of the seduced” (Stansell, 122). Stansell explains that this case is a classic example of misogynist thought, and it shows that the Antebellum’s misogyny was extreme enough normalize the association of “heterosexual relations with treachery and cold-blooded exploitation” (Stansell, 122). Male on female sexual hostility was just a fact of life. Again, this allowed for sympathy for males who commit sexual hostility and pushed the blame on female victims.

In both Charlotte Temple and the excerpts from chapter four of Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality, we see an obvious difference in the expectations of male and female sexuality, and the common sympathy for males and blame on females shows this.


“A Trial for Rape in New York, 1793,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexualitiy, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 109-112.

Rowson, Susanna. Charlotte Temple (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986).

Stansell, Christine. “Male License and Working-Class Women’s Sexuality,” in Major Problems in the History of American Sexualitiy, ed. Kathy Peiss (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2002) 120–131.

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Ah, Yes. The White Patriarchy.

A common theme found in both the selections of chapters two and three in Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality as well as Thomas A. Foster’s section on the Delaware Native Americans in Long Before Stone is the conceptions of sexuality and gender in terms of the patriarchal Western society. In each section of this week’s readings, the issues with deviant sexual behavior and gender identity became issues when confronted by white European settlers.

In “Sexual Violence in the Spanish Conquest of California,” Antonia I. Castañeda summarizes the influence of the Western patriarchy by describing it as “the ideology that devalues women in relation to men while it privatizes and reifies women as the symbolic capital (property) of men” (Castañeda, p. 53). The Western Patriarchal ideology serves as an excuse for sexual violence and mistreatment of people who are not white males. In this section, Castañeda outlines this idea. Historically, sexual abuse towards the people being conquered in wartime was okay because it was an act of political domination. Historically, sexual violence in nonmilitary situations was okay if the “status of the women violated” was low (Castañeda, p. 53). In the case of Native women in eighteenth-century California characteristics such as their race, religion, physical appearance that the settlers associated with sexual promiscuity (nudity, tattooed bodies) determine them to be of low status. The influence of this ideology on the Native American women was heightened because they were people of color.

In relation of this theme to “Changed . . . into the Fashion of Man,” the entire narrative was not focused around the person who was put on trial for their “confusing” gender identity, instead the narrative was told and centered on the white master and officials of the town. Even the women who had some power in determining Thomas/Thomasine’s gender (more power than the person whose gender was being discussed) lack credibility in this decision, as their claim that Thomas/Thomasine was a man was questioned by Master Tyos and the court until John Atkins, a white male, confirmed their claim.  In Tuesday’s other reading, “Weibe-Town and the Delawares-as-Women,” the issue again was established and told by white men rather than the Native peoples experiencing these nonbinary genders. The tribes deemed feminine were done so to embarrass and demean the men. It, similar to the sexual abuse Castañeda talks about, was a form of dominance to the Iroquois men. Beyond this form of dominance by the Iroquois, it was the European settlers that were confused and disguised by the “Women’s Town.” Zeisberger’s disgust largely stemmed from the idea of a town full of unmarried, independent women. Again looking at Castañeda’s explanation of the patriarchal sense of control, these unwed women did not match the sexual morality and proper familial structures determined by European men. This disapproval is similar to that given to the nudity and humor of Native women that led settlers to assume them to be overly sexual creatures.

It is important to note that most of the sources and perspectives cited in these readings are from the European settlers rather than the Native American women who faced sexual abuse, the feminized people of the Delaware, and Thomas/Thomasine. Though this is to be expected, as history is vastly written by those in power, it is a significant thing to note, as we are not hearing the perspectives of the people being discussed, ridiculed, and affected.

A significance of this constant theme is its relation to current times, as we still live in a society in which white males have the bulk of power. Even men with evidence of sexual misconduct and records of demeaning language towards women hold high positions of power. We still have cases such as the recent People v. Turner in which a white male convicted of multiple felony sexual assault charges faced lenient sentencing (of which he only served half of). Benefits of the White Patriarchy still exist, and it is important to learn where these benefits stem from.

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An Introduction


My name is Delanie, and I prefer she/her pronouns. I’m a senior History major with plans to pursue a Graduate Degree in Library Science.

I’m not the best at talking myself up, so I asked my friend to list some things that make me “memorable.” In summary, they said to mention how much I value music and literature (which is immensely). I am an amateur pianist and drummer, and I am a part of Virginia Tech’s student radio, WUVT. Poetry is my favorite form of literature, and I love reading/hearing other people’s work. I plan to get involved with WUVT’s literary magazine this semester and to help organize Virginia Tech’s literary festival, Glossolalia.

In response to the question of what I am looking for from this class, the best (and vaguest) answer I can give that I am looking to learn. One of my closest friends is a Women and Gender Studies minor, and they love to talk about sexuality and gender. What they’ve taught me really encourages me to learn more about the subject. I see this class as helping me do that in a historical context, which is important to me because of my major.

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