Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Women in Culture and Society Series)
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 AmericansTheodore Roosevelt, educator G. Stanley Hall, Ida B. Wells, and Charlotte Perkins Gilmanshe illuminates the ideological, cultural, and social interests these ideals came to serve.
On Theory and History
By Wuffles - March 23, 2006
Of course Bederman is "biased," she is a human being trying to understand something with the mental tools she has available to her. So is everyone else. Bederman is called biased because the tools that she chooses to apply are different from those some readers are used to or like. Bederman very is very clear that her book is about applying particular theories and examining particular threads in history in order to make certain aspects of that history visible which are not visible under other frameworks. Bederman's history will not explain everything that happened between 1880 and 1917, even everything that happened to or was done by the figures she chooses to highlight. It would be a mistake to wander around for all of one's life trying to make everything one encounters fit within Bederman's historically specific argument, but by carefully examining the evidence available to her she does succeed in making what was merely assumed or unseen visible to modern readers.
Unique Study on the Changing Meaning of "Manliness"
By mwreview "mwreview" - January 19, 2003
Gail Bederman writes a unique and impressive study regarding the changing views of American "manliness" during the decades spanning the turn of the century. In the Victorian years, "manliness" was seen as sexual and physical restraint and moderation in all things. As the 20th century drew near, however, changes in society--which included industrialization, economic instability, and rising immigration--called for a different view of "manliness." Was mankind becoming soft? Was this softness opening the door for the advancement of less "civilized" groups? It is important to note that by "manliness" and "civilization" the subjects of this book meant the "manliness" of whites and white "civilization." This attitude was the reason Jack Johnson's (black boxer) defeat of Jim Jeffries (white boxer) in 1910 was such a socially explosive event.Bederman offers chapters on several period thinkers on the subject including Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Theodore Roosevelt. Gilman saw women as... read more
Gender as a historical construction and analytical tool
By J. W. Went - April 19, 2004
After reading the reviews of this book I feel obligated to issue a contrasting view that many of the reviewers, oblivious to the gender system that invisibly yet inextricably contours their own behavior and sense of self, have missed; incidently, their reviews provide interesting insights not in any regards to the book as they utterly misinterpret the text, but rather themselves and the political texture of contemporary society. Bederman illustrates how fin de seicle white men marshalled tropes of masculinity - their conceptions of manhood - to question African-American manhood. The narration of Ida B. Wells simply illustrates how she and other reformers inverted the gender discourse against the predominant, middle-class Anglo conception of manhood to crystallize their hypocrisy. Moreover, in no way does her feminism subvert or in some other way negate the value of this book, as it was, and remains a most valuable contribution for gender studies simply because the book shows... read more
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