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Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History…

Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the… (edition 1995)

by Gail Bederman

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Title:Manliness & Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917
Authors:Gail Bederman
Info:University of Chicago Press (1995), Paperback
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Gender, Race, Men

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Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 by Gail Bederman



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In Manliness & Civilization, Gail Bederman argues that, “between 1890 and 1917, as white middle-class men actively worked to reinforce male power, their race became a factor which was crucial to their gender” (pg. 5). She writes, “This study is based on the premise that gender – whether manhood or womanhood – is a historical, ideological process. Through that process, individuals are positioned and position themselves as men or as women” (pg. 7). Bederman uses four case-studies in her analysis: the work of Ida B. Wells, G. Stanley Hall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and Theodore Roosevelt.
Bederman argues that Wells, in working against lynching, “convinced nervous white Northerners that they needed to take lynch law seriously because it imperiled both American civilization and American manhood” (pg. 46). Wells had to counter the myth of the black male rapist, which whites used to reinforce their linking of controlled masculinity to definitions of civilization. Wells promoted her ideas in Britain and, “by enlisting ‘Anglo-Saxons’ as her allies, Wells recruited precisely the spokesmen most able to disrupt the linkages between manliness and whiteness which kept white Americans tolerant of lynching” (pg. 61).
G. Stanley Hall worked to reconcile fears of neurasthenia, a “disease” believed to weaken men as a result of civilizing forces. Bederman crafts a Foucauldian argument, writing, “As an educator, Hall felt he could remake manhood by making men – literally. For what was education but the process of making boys into men? By encouraging educators to recognize the ‘savagery’ in young boys, Hall believed he could find a way to allow boys to develop into adult men with the virility to withstand the effeminizing tendencies of advanced civilization” (pg. 79). According to Bederman, “By transforming young men’s sexual passions into a source of scare nervous energy, Hall was able both to mitigate the danger of neurasthenia and to reconstruct adolescent male sexuality in ways which did not stress self-restraint” (pg. 103). Specifically, the betterment of the white race.
In her third example, Bederman examines Charlotte Perkins Gilman arguing that “because Gilman’s feminist arguments frequently revolved around women’s relation to civilization, implicit assumptions about white racial supremacy were as central to her arguments as they were to Hall’s” (pg. 123). Accordingly, Bederman argues that the point of Gilman’s work “was to create an alternative ideology of civilization in which white women could take their rightful place beside white men as full participants in the past and future of civilization” (pg. 135).
In writing about Theodore Roosevelt, Bederman argues, “TR framed his political mission in terms of race and manhood, nationalism and civilization. Like G. Stanley Hall and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Roosevelt longed to lead evolution’s chosen race toward a perfect millennial future” (pg. 171). Though Roosevelt consciously crafted a rugged, masculine persona, Bederman argues, “his political ambitions ultimately served the purposes – not of his own selfish personal advancement – but of the millennial mission to advance his race and nation toward a more perfect civilization” (pg. 177). Bederman writes of Roosevelt’s politics, “America’s nationhood itself was the product of both racial superiority and virile manhood” (pg. 183). This idea later reinforced American imperialism. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Mar 17, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0226041395, Paperback)

When former heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries came out of retirement on the fourth of July, 1910 to fight current black heavywight champion Jack Johnson in Reno, Nevada, he boasted that he was doing it "for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a negro." Jeffries, though, was trounced. Whites everywhere rioted. The furor, Gail Bederman demonstrates, was part of two fundamental and volatile national obsessions: manhood and racial dominance.

In turn-of-the-century America, cultural ideals of manhood changed profoundly, as Victorian notions of self-restrained, moral manliness were challenged by ideals of an aggressive, overtly sexualized masculinity. Bederman traces this shift in values and shows how it brought together two seemingly contradictory ideals: the unfettered virility of racially "primitive" men and the refined superiority of "civilized" white men. Focusing on the lives and works of four very different Americans—Theodore Roosevelt, educator G. Stanley Hall, Ida B. Wells, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman—she illuminates the ideological, cultural, and social interests these ideals came to serve.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:37 -0400)

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