Transsexuality and Rigid Boxes

During the first week of the semester, we discussed and critiqued Joan Scott’s  article, categories of analysis, and the gender binary between male and female. It is very fitting that in our second to last week—our last monograph—we discuss how the manipulation and change of sex separates from gender; the divergence shows that transsexuality and scientific change alter our understandings of how sex and gender work or do not work together congruently.

In Joanne J. Meyerowitz’s How Sex Change: A History of Transsexuality in the United States, the perception of sex and gender in the post-World War II years comes under scrutiny. Specifically, in How Sex Changed, Meyerowitz opens with an anecdote that demonstrates how sexual transition happened and how Americans perceived it following World War II. Christine Jorgensen, who served as a G.I., openly transitioned from male to female. A media frenzy ensued which popularized Jorgensen’s story—and Jorgensen embraces a public persona—making her sex transition national news. Not only this but as the news focused on the transition Americans openly learned more about the various aspects of sex that move beyond the anatomical understandings of the human body. 

On page 3 of Meyerowitz’s introduction, she explains the various features of sex. Just like historical source materials, a multi-teared system delineated the various features that explained sex:

Genitals and gonads
Breasts, beards, and other physical features that usually appeared after puberty
Erotic drives
Traits, mannerisms, and even occupations and clothes
Anatomical Sex
The sex of the body
Functional Sex
How men and women thought and behaved

As I read through the book I kept thinking of these features that many Americans separated to explain the different levels of sex. These are various categories that help explain various perceived issues and the much broader binary of male and female. The multiple categories demonstrate that many Americans adhered to the strict gender binary and looked for ways to separate by sex, gender, and behavior. 

Meyerowitz’s book, however, breaks out of the formed box. How transsexuality transformed America’s understanding of sex is a powerful way to move beyond categories of analysis and strict, rigid boxes. Transsexual individuals expanded outside of these boundaries. However, transsexuals and scholars of transsexuality formed new categories of analysis. “That sex, gender, and sexuality,” says Meyerowitz, “represent analytically distinct categories, that the sex of the body does not determine either gender or sexual identity, that doctors can alter characteristics of bodily sex” (284). 

 If we look at this book through the lens of Elizabeth Reis’s article, “Impossible Hermaphrodites,” we see that there is quite a difference from those adhering to the sex for which they were born. Reis states, “Those living with ambiguous bodies generally shared the binary ideal and sought to blend in, if only because survival demanded it”—this most definitely parallels with Judith Butler’s idea of gender performativity. Reis continues, “Forced to choose a sex, however, they did not always adhere to the sex they chose” (414). Therefore gender and sex are two completely different things and ideas. They don’t fit perfectly into the gender binary and follow more of what Jeanne Boydston asks us: whether a male/female distinction is important in social relationships in this place and time” (Boydston, 578). 

The fluidity of gender and sexuality weaves in and out of the American social and cultural fabric. Male and female are not two distinct things or beings, but rather participate in a larger framework of gender and sexuality in a society. Meyerowitz’s book shows us that transsexuality changed and transformed boundaries when it comes to understanding the differences in gender or the movement between different sexes. Scientific and medical changes to a human body, transitioning that person from male to female (or vice versa) reinforces a new study of gender and sexuality. 

Meyerowitz shows us gender and sexuality are not two congruent things. Though this story seems to focus on the male to female transition, not of female to male—one critique many reviewers noted—it is a fascinating story of how perceptions of sex changed through transsexuality in the United States.

Storytelling and Nadasen’s Household Workers Unite

Nadasen, Premilla. Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement. Boston: Beacon, 2015.

Oral tradition and storytelling plays a pivotal role in Premilla Nadasen’s book, Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement. As we have seen (or will see) in Tyler’s blog, storytelling pulled African American domestic workers out of the shadows through the process by which storytelling collectively amplified a political and social voice for this group. These women were dealing with low-wages, hard (private) labor, and the sheer neglect of their profession being serious, respectable work. The movements which they created forged new understandings of domestic workers, not only during enslavement, and between the 1950s and 1970s, but also onwards through today. The intersection of women’s rights and storytelling converges as a means, as Nadasen states, “to connect with the struggle for black liberation” and a means to establish self-determination and recognition in these communities (3). Many studies of workers’ movements have been focused on white male workers–such as those that focus on the “forgotten man” narrative that explains the conservative turn and rhetoric targeting blue collar workers. A similar theme in LaShawn Harris’ Sex Workers, Psychics and Number Runners, Nadasen’s book participates in reshaping how people consider the intersections of race and labor.

The various books we’ve read thus far have approached gender in two distinct ways: (i) a hierarchical, top-down examination of power over people, mainly women; and (ii) a focus on disenfranchised peoples and the rise of their own political, social, and cultural voice. Nadasen’s book follows both paths simultaneously. Women are central to this story. Not just any women, but domestic-working African American women that were “middle-aged or elderly black women, very often mothers and grandmothers, who took multiple risks, made enormous personal sacrifices, and offered powerful critiques of the status quo” (5). One major theme in Nadasen’s book seeks to pull these women out of the shadows. She states that domestic workers, especially those who are women of color, strategized “mobilization and explor[ed] how storytelling was central to the way they organized and developed a political agenda.” This important methodology “offer[s] a new way to think about how storytelling helps construct identities and how social movements create historical narratives and put them to use” (3).

Tyler’s blog points out the importance of storytelling. I think he says it quite well when “Nadasen powerfully demonstrates how stories and narratives can be employed for social activism” in addition to the social construction of gender. This methodology showcases the power of telling a collective history of the domestic workers’ past; what Nadasen called a movement which “mobilize[d] other household workers and forge[d] a collective identity” (4). Yet, I think there is something more to be said about Nadasen’s methodology in the broader scheme of gender history. These women forged a collective identity by collectively remembering their past. This is something that Nadasen does not really theorize, however it’s an important point to raise.

Storytelling—aka remembering—in Household Workers Unite adds in perspectives most commonly ignored. I wonder, though, how does the storytelling in Nadasen’s book reinforce gendered roles for women being the bearers of history and the telling of the past? Also, how would this story change if the narrative did not solely focus on the stories in which domestic-working-women chose to remember? When thinking of the second question, my mind draws to Rodney Harrison’s article, “Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget,” that discusses at length the role of forgetting as an integral aspect of remembering. Harrison states, “One cannot properly form new memories and attach value to them without selecting some things to forget.”[2] Or, “forgetting is a necessary form of cultural production, a vital decision-making process by which we choose to emphasize and memorialize events that have social value, and forget those which are irrelevant.”[3] How does “forgetting” certain aspects of their past help bolster the parts they want to remember? Does focusing on historical moments that bring that community of workers together help bolster political movements more broadly?

If domestic workers collectively remembered the past as a means to bring unity to their selves within the larger movement of black liberation, then possibly Nadasen’s book is a testament that shines new light on the everyday struggles of black working class women during the mid-twentieth century. Disenfranchised black voices also surfaced during the same period, adding to the engendering the power of the Civil Rights Movement. African American domestic worker lives were “out on the borderlands,” to use Carolyn Kay Steedman’s phrase. [4] Yet, over time surfaced as groups that played (and continue to participate in) integral roles over workers’ rights, wages, and equality. Collectively they bargained and politicized a movement which brought recognition and a collective search for equality.

[1] Tyler Balli, “Storytelling in Household Workers Unite.”

[2] Rodney Harrison, “Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget: Late Modern Heritage Practices, Sustainability and the ‘Crisis” of Accumulation of the Past,” International Journal of Heritage Studies, 19:6 (2013): 580.

[3] Harrison, “Forgetting to Remember,” 589.

[4] Carolyn Kay Steedman, Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1987), 5.


Imperial Brotherhood Questions

Imperial Brotherhood

John Legg and Henry Clay Adkins

  1.     Let’s start by chatting with the title. In many cases titles can reflect the book’s larger argument. What are your thoughts on Imperial Brotherhood?
  2.     Dean’s book hones in on the relationship between masculinity and warfare. What sort of characteristics made political leaders look “weak” compared to “strong?” How do politics and warfare entwine together during the Vietnam Era? Broadly speaking, what sort of masculine traits do we see about the Vietnam War itself, but also the policies that surround it?
  3.     Going deeper into masculinity: how did manhood and masculinity bring the United States into the Vietnam War? Was incessant moments grew to the need for Americans to enter into conflict throughout Southeast Asia? How does masculinity fit into the Cold War era more generally (hint a good place to discuss more on Costigliola’s article)?
  4.     How did John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson exert their masculinity? How did their backgrounds differ in the ways in which their policy reflected masculinity? [a more contemporary question: how do recent U.S. presidents challenge the assumption that in order to be a masculine politician you must have had to serve in the military?]
  5.     What is the Lavender Scare? How does homosexuality and the fear of communism intersect in Dean’s book?
  6.     How did elite policy makers – conservatives and liberals – come to define deviants? (we are thinking of page 67 here)
  7.     What can be said about the top-down structure of the “Imperial Brotherhood” elitist group in regards to the realities of the Vietnam War soldier?
  8.     How does Dean’s analysis and approach form? What sort of historiographical conversations does his book engage in?


Class Participation:

We’d like groups to break up and discuss these three prompts. Try to come up with specific examples to compare and contrast rather than broad connections with the books.

–       How does Dean’s book relate to Ann Little’s Abraham in Arms?

–       How does Dean’s book relate to Judith Butler’s concept of performativity?

–       How does Dean’s book relate to George Chauncey’s Gay New York?

Gay New York by George Chauncey

In George Chauncey’s Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, the revitalization of gay history during the pre-World War II era comes to light. This book is vital to the study of gay history and gender studies. Not only does it uncover an entire social network from within New York, it does a fantastic job of uncovering the stories of LGBTQ peoples that have been under-analyzed in the historical record. In particular, Chauncey sheds light on a period in which this topic is relatively lost to oblivion. The work is significant as it shows gay culture between 1890 and the 1930s and ‘40s; by doing so it shows a trajectory in how the relationship between homosexual and heterosexual Americans was constructed and intertwined within U.S. culture and society.

Chauncey’s approach seeks to not only demonstrate that times were much different, especially for gay men, during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but that era defined the relationship between culture and homosexuality in the United States. This blog post, however, focuses more specifically on the idea of binaries in Chauncey’s book. One of the key ideas that stood out to me primarily was the differences in gay men; one masculine, one more feminine-like. The argument on page 13 discusses this section quite succinctly: men who followed their gendered roles—being more manly and masculine—were far more accepted in society than those who “ascribed gender status by assuming the sexual and other cultural roles ascribed to women” (13). This is where the term “fairy” comes to light. Primarily a word which joined the ranks of others, like “faggot” or “queen,” that separated men who “dressed or behaved in what [was] considered to be a flamboyantly effeminate manner.” These men who accepted “fairy” also accepted, or “embraced,” as Chauncey states, the term “gay.”(16)

The nomenclature of the term “gay” strived to be a term in which gay men could identify with each other without “revealing their identity” to those who were heterosexual. That means that the lines were blurred between who was a “fairy” and who was “more masculine” or “manly.” The binary between the two was formed by who was more masculine or effeminate—or, more simply, who was more “penetrative” or “receptive” in the relationship, whether long or short term. Chauncey concisely suggests  that masculinity came in the form of power, and “sexual penetration symbolized one man’s power over another” (81). To Chauncey, this period brought about social change and resistance by gay men to these stereotypes by accepting and embracing “gay” as a means to hide their sexual identity.

This is where our general conversations on binaries come back into frame. In Joan Scott’s article, we notice that binaries are a useful category of analysis. Chauncey seems to move past the idea of binaries. The term “gay” was used as a means to bring homosexuals together to combat the taboo and public perceptions on homosexual peoples. Moving past binaries is exactly what Chauncey is doing here. In the case of Gay New York, gay men would purposely shift their masculinity depending on the context and to avoid persecution, stigmatization, and  stereotypes. So, maybe, this work would rather fit in with Boydston’s article, to show that “gay” meant different things, for different peoples, at different times; however it was used as a unifying term to attempt to remove stigma from homosexuals in New York.

Gender and Jim Crow

Generally, when we think about the complicated period of Jim Crow, we think of systems, beliefs, and motivations by white peoples to continually push down the growing rights of African American peoples. Following the turbulent period of Reconstruction, the newly rejoined (but still contested) the United States enacted laws in which segregation policies incessantly degraded the political and socio-cultural standing of African Americans. To the general public, these laws seemed to be some dominating force—especially in the South, but throughout the U.S., too—to control the new freedoms that African Americans gained in the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. With all of that said, there have been some dominant notions about the Jim Crow era, generally as a moment in history where white Southerners continued to use racial superiority to control African American peoples following the emancipation of slavery. Besides, this tumultuous period generally follows a focus on intense racial violence that African Americans, especially men, faced throughout the Deep South. In Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore’s book, Gender and Jim Crow: Women and Politics of White Supremacy, however, she recasts that focus of Jim Crow to examine the role of women, especially Black women, who formulated new political standings in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century America. This not only reshapes our understanding of Jim Crow but also on the history of gender and women in the South. 

This book is a remarkable measure of the persistence of African American women in the South during this trying period. In the section that Gilmore addresses the “civil death” of African American men—a notion quite similar to the “civic death” of women during Colonial America—she examines how African American women rose to the occasion to demonstrate political participation; a fact that demonstrates that African Americans had staked a claim to politics of following the gilded age and at the start of the Progressive Era. The disenfranchisement of African American men gave whites a motive to exclude them from the political realm of the day; however, black women (especially middle class) demonstrated that through their strategies to combat these measures they, too, had an important voice to lead African Americans forward. 

A few bloggers in class have brought up the “Best Man” ideal; a process by which white leaders chose the men “who by faith and by works, exhibited benevolence, fair-mindedness, and gentility” as a means to best serve political interests of the state. Those interests were to lower the status of African Americans into, yet, another form of paternalistic control. A movement away from the plantation system, these systems contributed to a similar system in which African Americans faced situations where their political voices were not heard. Moreover, Gilmore states that “African Americans constantly had to prove their manhood to maintain civil rights.” So this “Best Man” idea brings up ideas of masculinity, themes we have seen in many other readings this semester.

I wonder, then, how does this book relate to the past readings we’ve done in class? In comparison to Revolutionary Backlash and Riotous Flesh, how does the participation of African American women bolster a sense of community action against the unbridled Jim Crow Era? In regards to masculinity, how does the “Best Man” ideology translate to other works we’ve read in demonstrating manhood in some specific society and period? 

White Mother to a Dark Race

Jacobs, Margaret D. White Mother to a Dark Race: Settler Colonialism, Maternalism, and the Removal of Indigenous Children in the American West and Australia, 1880-1940. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009.

Today is Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and we should honor and acknowledge the resilience of Native peoples in the United States and Canada, as well as Indigenous peoples of Australia, New Zealand, and other places around the world. In Blacksburg, we sit on the homelands of the Tutelo and Monacan peoples; while their story may seem obscured through Virginia Tech’s presence, they are still with us. We are on Native land.

Native resilience and persistence through the on-going structure of settler colonialism demonstrates how groups of people survive and reject erasure by consistent straining efforts by a settler state—be it the U.S., Australia, Canada, etc. I bring this up because Margaret D. Jacobs’s book, White Mother to a Dark Race is a central work which delves into the issues and realities of settler colonialism.

When we think of settler colonialism, or the process by which white Euro-Americans expand their reaches onto stolen Native lands (or lands not upheld by federal treaties), we generally think of federal initiatives (as a top-down thing) set forth by law, policy, and conflict with Indigenous peoples. However, in Jacobs’s book, we see that the pressures to assimilate come from a gendered lens of focus. Also, it shows the “on the ground” efforts to participate in the dispossessing. White women held power as settler states moved west or onto Indigenous lands (in the U.S. or Australia). These women utilized the materialism and motherhood as a tool to construct movements to take Indigenous children from their families as a process of Christianization, assimilation, and also to “erase”—a key idea within the framework of settler colonialism—Native peoples as a means of progress and change.

This comparative study of the United States and Australia demonstrates that this process was happening globally, and is much more than a North American phenomenon. Though she covers the differences between American Indians and Australia’s Aboriginal populations, the main point of the book is clear. Indigenous peoples suffered from the process of colonization, and continue to suffer the on-going—and never-ending—structure of settler colonialism.

One of the key works surrounding settler colonialism is an article produced by Patrick Wolfe in 2006. This article, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” demonstrates how land dispossession is a process which “destroys to replace.” [1] Wolfe’s work draws a distinction between “colonialism” and “settler colonialism” in saying that the latter is about dispossessing people from their land. Settler societies invade a land to remove a native population to rebuild, restructure, and benefit from this “new found” place. One critique of Wolfe’s work is the process by which settler colonialism is more than simply removing Native peoples from their land; it also includes both land dispossession and a benefit from the extraction of resource. Though where Wolfe is correct in all of this is the process by which settler societies construct communities who believe they are racially superior than anyone non-white. This is where Margaret Jacobs’s book comes in handy. One major point to delineate is that the process of land dispossession and assimilation/control over an Indigenous society is much more than a racial phenomenon, but also a gendered one. This book is important in that regard, as she says on page 9, that gender “provide[s] fundamental mechanisms for the reproduction of the group and assertions of identity,” things that were ultimately ignored in previous decades that “marginalized all women and neglected questions of gender” (9).

[1] Patrick Wolfe,” Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, Vol. 8, No. 4 (2006): 388.


Confederate Reckoning by Stephanie McCurry

Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South

In Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South, the ideas and realities of Confederate demise are put under an analytical microscope. McCurry’s primary goal is to demonstrate that internal issues from within the Confederacy played a significant factor in its demise, all of which came from people often silenced in the military study of the Civil War—women and enslaved peoples. Ultimately, McCurry’s argument maintains that “the people, male and female, black and white, Southern and Northern, who confronted each other in 1865 and engaged anew in paramilitary struggle over the terms of social and political life, were not the same people they had been in the 1860s” (9). This book shows that social and cultural events changed as women and people of color became central to the political scheme during the 1860s. It demonstrates and upends traditional values set by the founding fathers. They are fluid and malleable, incorporating peoples often silenced in the writing of great white men. As the United States fully reunited (or did it?) after the Civil War, women and African American people—and I am sure other people of color—had a new political voice and set a precedent for future generations to look back on. 

White women did not figure in politically to the agenda of the Confederacy, but a series of confrontations with white women with political acts, like the bread riots, forced the Confederacy to deal with their presence and agency. Those moments asserted a new form of power, one in which defied white supremacy and masculinity and reified the role of white women in the South. The food riots in the South also gave voice to the poor, working-class women who had been struggling to survive under the Confederate regime. One of the crucial aspects while reading the book is the way in harkens back to the idea of the Little Commonwealth. “As a matter of law and custom [women] were regarded,” says McCurry, “as outside politics and war, members of the household, under the governance of husbands and fathers” (3). This precisely harkens back to John Demos’s A Little Commonwealth: Family Life in Plymouth Colony. Men remained at the top of the social order, but also leaders in their households. These men governed the houses, yet, when they went off to war, women had to take their place. These bread riots challenged the public space once dominated by elite white men. The demand for food, and the political movements to obtain better welfare support, added a new voice on the Southern political stage. Women demonstrated agency and self-determination for themselves and their fellow peers as a means to challenge the patriarchy and demand better treatment during wartime, all of which ushered in a new age for women in politics—or at least led them down a long and winding path towards political recognition and power. 

The significance of this work demonstrates that as the institution of slavery crumbled through the external pressures brought on by the tightening vice of U.S. power, women (as well as enslaved peoples) ballooned the South from the inside ultimately assisting in the destruction and demise of the Confederate States of America. 

Riotous Flesh

Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth-Century America

Over the past few weeks, we’ve spent some time discussing the concept of power and how that informs our understanding of gender, women’s studies, and ideas of masculinity. I remember during one of the seminar discussions that we talked about the “civic death” and the situation by which women had little “control” over their lives; men being dominate public figures in society. This makes you think of the various private moments that women held in their lives; not just in the home, but in moments away from men who were traditionally thought as the bearers of sexual gratification which “signified a women’s maturity” (1). 

As we learned last week, we notice that there is a difference in what “public” really means; not just a geographical space but a void in which ideals and expectations are controlled and bolstered through the lens of gender. This week is no different than the others. This book is more than an investigation into masturbation during the nineteenth century U.S. north, but broadly an examination of the politics of sex, gender, power, and how personal gratification mixes.

“Public space,” in the context of April R. Haynes’s Riotous Flesh: Women, Physiology, and the Solitary Vice in Nineteenth Century America, shows us that men attempted to control women’s behaviors and sexual ideas through gendered power and control. Sexual thoughts, reciprocated through masturbation, were often not only discouraged but looked down on by civil society. The power dynamics between men and women related to the superiority of men: such interpretation suggests “why would women need to self-please themselves when they have men to do that job?” As seen on page 8, Haynes suggests that “patriarchs and libertines considered male sexuality essentially active (either questing or controlled) and female sexuality passive (either receptive or obedient).” Power dynamics, concerning sex, pleasure, and the politics which surrounded that topic, heavily swayed towards men during the period or at least those who argued against the uncivil act of the female “solitary vice.”

One of the essential parts of this book is the process by which women seek political rights through the discussions of sexual independence. Though, during the Antebellum period, female reforms sought to prohibit masturbation. These women did so as “they sought to challenge the sexual relations that structures patriarchy in their own time and envision what sexual autonomy for women might look like in practice” (3). One of the other significant points of conversation in this book is how African American women interacted with discussions centered on morality and female sexual autonomy (55, 162).

 Some of the big questions I hope we can discuss during our class is how does power play a role in this book, and to what extent did women’s agency demonstrate a way to contest that power?  How did women reinforce or protest debates on sexuality, in particular the private moments of masturbation? How does “public space” interact with Haynes’s work? How does race play a role in this study of gender and power? And, in comparison to Revolutionary Backlash, do we see any similarities or differences in looking at women using politics to push change?

Abraham in Arms – Discussion Post and Questions

John Legg
Iris Swaney

Discussion Post

This week’s discussion centers Ann Little’s Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial America into our collective understanding of gender history this semester. After a cursory survey of book reviews on the monograph, Little’s book came out after many considered colonial military history to have faded away. yet, it fits into a conversation with many works by historians like Jill Lepore, Jenny Hale Pulsipher, James D. Drake, Guy Chey, Evan Haefeli, and Kevin Sweeney, all of which focus on military and warfare in New England before the Revolution.[1]


Our discussion will begin with some contextual information on gender in Colonial American by Iris, then we will complete THOMAS, and then ask questions related to this week’s readings.



What are the big questions that Little asks in Abraham in Arms?



  • How does religion and gender come together in this story?
  • How are captives, both male and female, both European and Indigenous, discussed in Little’s book?
  • How does Little’s book talk about agency within both Indigenous communities and European (English and French) frontier settlements? How does this relate to Perdue’s Cherokee Women?


Masculinity + Gender

  • ARTICLE: How does Toby L. Ditz talk about masculinity? Why is important to the field of gender studies? Why is there a “New Men’s History,” and what does this look like as a field? Why does men’s history assist in the “displacement of the narrative of men’s gendered power?” (2)
  • Compared to last week’s articles which talked about womanhood, Ann Little’s book spends a lot of time unpacking the term “manhood.” What does this mean to her story and more broadly in the study of gender history? How is manhood defined and why is it defined in that way?
  • How is the image of the body used to reinforce power and superiority in Colonial New England—think of interactions or encounters with Indigenous and European captives.
  • In Cherokee Women, tasks and labor were a big part in seeing differences in gender. How does Abraham in Arms talk about tasks—both male and female—in Colonial New England?
  • On top of tasks, how does Little discuss land ownership and perception of who can own land?
  • How does cross dressing play into Little’s book. Do we see any connections with the article we read last week on Hall?



  • Why is warfare gendered? Think of page 207.
  • How does warfare/violence interact with gendered assumptions of family roles?
  • How does Little bring nuance to past assumption that violence in Colonial America was based on unique and intricate differences?




  • Words seem to be important parts of Little’s analysis, and the use of words are used in different ways to reinforce gender differences or culture differences (a separation between “us” and “them”) How do words or terminology, based on gendered assumptions, change between Indigenous and European cultures in the book?
  • How does sovereignty play a role into Little’s book?



Final thoughts

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the book? Is Little successful in her analysis?

[1] Kyle F. Zelner, “Reviewed Works: Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England by Ann M. Little,” The New England Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 4 (2008): 719.

Out of the Shadows: Gender in Colonial and Native America

This week’s readings, while varied and expansive, examine multiple historiographical gaps and misunderstandings of women during the Colonial, Early Republic, and Jacksonian periods of American history. All three scholars, Theda Perdue, Michelle LeMaster, and Kathleen Brown provide impeccable evidence for new modes of historical inquiry into the American past. If one could determine a common thread that runs throughout their articles/book, it would suggest that gender history during this period is more complicated than the previously understood binary of male/female or paternal/maternal. Communities resisted and adapted different gender roles, even when other forces or expectations tried to uproot those systems.

 When we examine the colonial period, court records provide fruitful evidence through which we get a clearer understanding of that period’s legal and social expectations. Women played a unique role in Colonial America. For example, when we think of gender in Colonial America, Carol Karlsen’s work, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman, provides a prime example to show how gender plays a monumental role in colonial New England, and within patriarchal societies, in the process by which women’s bodies are examined and publicly humiliated at court proceedings. While reading Kathleen Brown’s article, “Changed…into the Fashion of Man,” we see a similar approach with the communal expectations and punishment in Colonial America based on sex or gender debates. Brown examines an important question—one we may bring up during class discussion—about what constitutes “womanhood” or the role that women played in “examining” bodies during the colonial period. Her article parallels a similar approach in Karlsen’s work when women are accused as witches often had their bodies examined for the mark of the devil. It seems that during Colonial America, officials used mythic understandings of the human body as a means to dictate gender or assumptions about gender. 

The articles on Indigenous peoples in America highlight trends of historiographical change, but also trace the importance of gender in the American Southeast. That region was a violent place, steeped in conflict between Indigenous peoples and Europeans – both Spanish and English. While their articles examine (in brief) the role that violence, or hunting, play in Native society in the Southeast—whether it be Cherokee or Muskogee-Creek societies—gender is their primary focus. While much different than Brown’s article on Thomas Hall, both Michelle LeMaster (“Pocahontas Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”) and Theda Perdue (Cherokee Women) provide a thought-provoking analysis of Native women in the Southeast. These women were powerful; they held status in the respective communities and persisted over time. I believe there could be a discussion on agency within these two pieces, as they both acknowledge the fact that women played a monumental role in communal politics—primarily as Native communities viewed women as “more traditional” than the men as they defended land rights, had a closer relationship to the agrarian lifestyle that the Five Civilized Tribes are known for, and did not change through colonization. Simply put: gender has been an essential topic of historical inquiry, but also an essential empirical understanding when it comes to Southeastern Native communities.

I believe that agency—the process by which one person chooses their destiny and has control of their situation—can be seen in how Native women in the Southeast persisted over time and overcame Eurocentric expectations on gender. In particular, Perdue’s work is instrumental in thinking about how Cherokee society (and many other Native communities) were matriarchal in organization and matrilineal in family lineage. This enriches the agency idea as Perdue talks about the entire collective identity and organization of Native communities that worked, but differed from Western culture and were deemed as inferior for those reasons. Native peoples demonstrated agency in standing up to that supposed inferiority and persisted through change.