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.