Although often understood as frivolous, women’s shopping was anything but. By the late nineteenth century, almost all households had to purchase daily necessities. Women’s paid work was often in retail or consumer goods manufacturing. Thus, even as men also bought goods and services, women’s responsibilities as purchasers and wage earners made consumption particularly crucial to their daily labor. Thus, consumption reinforced gender ideology. Fashions, food, and public performance helped to “make” gender. In so doing, they also reinforced racial and class hierarchies. From the first advertisements, “mass” consumption equated real women with white, young, slender, and middle-class bodies. However, specialized products, commercial districts, and fashions also made consumption important to nonwhite, queer, and working-class identities. Moreover, both policymakers and everyday consumers increasingly sought economic stability and also political change in stores and shopping; “consumer” movements and less organized, recurrent protests raised the possibility, and the threat, of women’s political authority.
Kathleen M. Brown
Gender frontiers are but one starting point for comparing cultural contact zones and analyzing imperialism and racial formation in the early modern Atlantic. Recent scholarship on Native American and African encounters with Europeans suggests a need for a more complex analytical framework. Africans and Native Americans participated actively in creating this cultural frontier—by persisting in, adjusting, or transforming precontact practices or by assuming that the uninvited newcomers might share enough core beliefs and desires to be incorporated or vanquished. Europeans who participated in producing colonialism engaged in creative and destructive processes, but they remained connected to elite people in imperial centers that were buffered—by distance, money, and power—from such changes. The significance of gender frontiers is best understood as one phase in the longer historical processes they gave rise to: the emergence of new, syncretic cultures and populations, and the racialized and reactive cultures that quickly followed.
Dayo F. Gore
“Cold War” traditionally refers to the foreign policy, military, and ideological contestation between the power blocks of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Western powers of Europe and the United States. This chapter examines the ways women’s experiences and debates over gender, race, and sexuality were central to the US Cold War anticommunist policies and practices on the homefront and globally. This perspective reveals the ways the global Cold War reshaped decolonizing struggles in the Global South as well as domestic culture, social relations, and ideals of the family through domestic containment. The chapter charts the roots of civil rights politics and social movements of the 1960s in sustained resistance to Cold War anticommunism and its politics of conformity. Centering women’s experiences negotiating Cold War strategies of domestic containment, the chapter reveals the US Cold War as a multifaceted period of contestation as much as conformity.
This chapter brings together the histories of American beauty culture and disability to identify overlaps between the fields and encourage women’s and gender historians to engage disability studies in their scholarship. “Unruly bodies,” bodies that fall outside the norm because of race, ethnicity, or disability, became the object of social and cultural derision and labeled ugly, abnormal and disabled. The techniques women, surgeons, fashion designers, and beauty culturists used to manage, fix and discipline these “unruly bodies” through cosmetics, diet, exercise, surgery, and rehabilitation contain striking similarities, which this chapter explores in historical context. Although experts projected beauty ideals and medical standards onto women’s bodies, American women embraced body modifications on their own terms and imbued them with their own meanings.
Mary Ting Yi Lui
This article traces the long history of legal regulations around interracial sex and marriage as tied to important changes in the territorial consolidation and political formation of the American nation and its polity. These regulations stabilized ambiguous racial categories and gender roles as well as patriarchy and heteronormativity. The article begins in the colonial era to survey the range of local practices of interracial sex, marriage, and family formation that took place across different imperial contexts across the North American continent and moves into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the United States spanned the continent and pursued its own imperial ambitions globally. In addition, the article chronicles histories of resistance and mixed-race family formation that both challenged and worked within the limits of the law.
Toby L. Ditz
This chapter shows how republican and imperial grammars of manhood, and the gender order in which they were embedded, defined boundaries of civic and political inclusion in three areas of United States law and policy: the military, land and labor, and immigration. In each, specific models of labor, marriage, and domestic life defined manliness, conferring full privileges of citizenship on some men but denying it to others. Even as they generated racial and class distinctions, grammars of manhood also created openings for challenges by subordinate and marginal men. These dynamics included bids to create an egalitarian interracial republic followed by racist backlash, competition between yeoman ideals and liberal political economy’s manly wage-earning domestic provider, and alternative marriage practices among immigrants and their policing—all in the context of the nation’s colonial past, its aggressive territorial expansionism, and patterns of global labor migration shared with other former slave-based regimes.
Patricia Cline Cohen
The explosion of print culture and the advent of female authors and readers created the foundation for important changes in sexual practices and sexual mores across the long nineteenth century, influencing attitudes toward female pleasure, romantic love, courtship, marriage, and same-sex eroticism. This chapter focuses on female creators of sexual knowledge who worked to change legal practices and social customs by posing alternatives to indissoluble heterosexual marriage. It places women’s writings in their historical context of circulation—across state and national lines, and from pamphlets to newspapers to courtroom testimonies—revealing the ways that print offered possibilities for new authorities to emerge on the subject of women’s bodies and experiences.
This chapter considers, through a biracial lens, some essential complexities of antebellum women’s reform. The emphasis is on antislavery and a socioreligious ethos based on the intersectionality of spiritual egalitarianism, civil liberty, and the jeremiad tradition. Black women’s double burden, slavery and race, automatically channeled them as reformers into more expansive visions than whites, already jeopardizing their privileged True Woman status. For disparate reasons, convergence of abolition and equal rights was not a calling that white reform women embraced monolithically. As “doers of the word,” some upheld apostolic tenets of Christian unity. Others chose what eventually became republican individualism and a “segregated sisterhood.” Nonetheless, women of both races were mainsprings in the ultimate success of antebellum reform, the training ground for future struggles for equal rights.
The history of reproductive politics in the United States incorporates several centuries of struggle and resistance and virtually no periods of quiescence. The state and other institutions have frequently clashed within and against each other and with girls and women, over who has primary power to govern female sexuality, fertility, and maternity: institutions, or women themselves. These struggles have always been racialized. From the eighteenth century forward, authorities have promulgated laws and public policies embedding population-control aims, investing some groups with greater reproductive value than others. In the modern era, “choice” emerged as the mark of reproductive freedom, chiefly defined as the right to limit and terminate pregnancy. More recently, “reproductive justice” contends that all people have the human right to be a parent; to forgo parenting; and to access the resources required to exercise the first two rights with dignity and safety.
Sexual violence has a surprisingly static history, whether regarding methods of sexual assault, the relationship of sexual vulnerability to economic and social vulnerability, an underlying suspicion of women’s claims of sexual force, or an emphasis on physical violence as the only believable means of coercion. This chapter explores the legal, social, and cultural meanings of rape throughout US history from the seventeenth to the twenty-first century. It includes discussions of feminist activism, rape culture, racism, and the overall relationships between social power and sexual power. While legal treatment of sexual violence has changed over time, the ability for powerful men to coerce less powerful women into sexual acts remains a remarkably consistent feature of America’s social, economic, and cultural past and present.