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Feminism and Women's Role in American Revolution

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Table of Contents

  • Women and Authorship in Revolutionary America
  • Revolutionary Women
  • Women Rising in Defence of Life
  • Being a Mother and a Revolutionary
  • Camp Followers, Nurses, Soldiers, and Spies: Women and the Modern Memory of the Revolutionary War
  • “Female Women or Feminine Ladies”
  • Revolutionary Conceptions
  • Women's Rights
  • The Most Difficult Revolution: Women and Trade Unions
  • Scientific-technological Change and the Role of Women in Development
  • Jimmy Carter and Women's Rights: From the White House to Islamic Feminism
  • Authoritarian Institutions and Women's Rights

Role of women in early American history, broadly in intellectual and cultural history is to explore the rhetoric of historiography. In the chronological arrangement of the pieces, it starts by including women in the history of the Revolutionary era, then makes the transforming discovery that gender is the central subject, the key to understanding the social relation of the sexes and the cultural discourse of an age. From that fundamental insight follows Kerber's sophisticated contributions to the intellectual history of women. Prefaced with an eloquent and personal introduction, an account of the formative and feminist influences in the author's ongoing education, these writings illustrate the evolution of a vital field of inquiry and trace the intellectual development of one of its leading scholars.

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The American Revolution had a profound effect on the practical behaviours of women. Women acted economically, socially, and politically to survive the war. The most notable expression of their behaviour is through legal divorce, which increased exponentially immediately after the War for Independence. This surge showed that women had not only the economic means to leave a marriage, but also that they had the legal right to do so

with less social stigma.

Women and Authorship in Revolutionary America

American revolutionary period demonstrates, women historically have not enjoyed the same relationship to writing, print manuscript cultures, and traditions of authorship as men. Present-day academic conversations about women and textual production, which too often dismiss authorship, feminism, and the gendered dimensions of women's material lives. Feminist scholars still have quite a bit of work to do. Vietto seeks to challenge the processes through which feminists write histories: 'We discover the past to be exactly what we suspected it was all along: the necessary precursor of the present'. We all need to broaden our ideas about women's authorship and to correct assumptions about an imaginary past evolving toward contemporary feminist consciousness. American women authored texts other than the novel, that 'civic, social, and commercial motivations for writing or publishing frequently commingled,' and that women sometimes were welcomed into the world of letters.

Revolutionary Women

Esther gave birth to three children, but she also suffered the alienation of being an outsider in American culture, which she considered backward. The onset of the Revolutionary War unsettled her precarious stability. Joseph joined the Continental army where, as colonel and adjutant general, he fought in bloody battles, twice having horses shot from beneath him. Esther, meanwhile, fled with her household from sanctuary to sanctuary, usually isolated dwellings in remote parts of Pennsylvania, fearful for their lives and in terror for her husband. In the cauldron of war, Esther became an American patriot.

Women Rising in Defence of Life

We are living in an extraordinary and ambiguous moment in Latin America. In many countries, extractivist regimes—which coexist and intertwine with criminal activities—are intensifying and modernizing. Simultaneously, a massive and radical current of insubordination and struggles of diverse women—a current which flows like magma between territories and cities, expanding from one country to another—has been awoken.

This constellation of struggles forcefully re-emerged as a rejection of the increase in feminicides and violence against many of us and gained strength from a collective and constantly escalating rejection of our historical experience of subjection and control.

Being a Mother and a Revolutionary

Being a revolutionary and a mother has meant dealing with a gendered division of labor both at home and within revolutionary political organizations. This research aims to complicate the meanings of personal and political, public and private through the narratives of revolutionary mothers. The literature on motherhood and political activism has focused on either mothers’ peace politics, or women’s “entrance” into the public sphere through motherhood. The memories and struggles of women who identified as “revolutionaries” in the 1970s and 1980s have been either totally invisible or marginalized in public debates, as well as in the academic literature. Narratives of motherhood have constituted a significant layer of silence within this larger invisibility. Women who were mothers participated in revolutionary movements, or they became mothers during their years of political activism.

Camp Followers, Nurses, Soldiers, and Spies: Women and the Modern Memory of the Revolutionary War

When asked of their memory of the American Revolution, most would reference George Washington or Paul Revere, but probably not Molly Pitcher, Lydia Darragh, or Deborah Sampson. So the paper demonstrates not only the lack of inclusivity of women in the memory of the Revolutionary War, but also why the women that did achieve recognition surpassed the rest. Women contributed to the war effort in multiple ways, including serving as cooks, laundresses, nurses, spies, and even as soldiers on the battlefields. There are some of the lesser-known women to the recognized women in the memory of the Revolutionary War, and seeks to understand why the three women mentioned above overshadowed those that were forgotten.

“Female Women or Feminine Ladies”

Most women in history have had to make 'patriarchal bargains' when redefining contemporary proscription on gender, and Republican Motherhood fit Bennett's model of 'patriarchal equilibrium', a process whereby women pay for gains in one area with losses in another. Invoking a seemingly universal female experience of motherhood also masked the new ideology's singular application to white women who had developed Republican Motherhood in response to their own class and race concerns. Tying female virtue to sexual behaviour became a tool by which to exclude non-elite women from influence.

Damaged by the War

Until the middle of the 19th century, loyalist scholarship was non-existent because of a “persistent unwillingness to recognize a painful aspect of our early national development”. Early revolutionary scholarship paid little attention to loyalists because they were considered traitors and a national enemy. Once historians began to look at the group, their works downplayed the diversity and potential of loyalists”. In more recent decades, however, historians have begun to look more into the loyalists and the role they played throughout the conflict, as well as their impact following it. Historians have analysed loyalist thought and action both on an individual and group level, and the amount of literature available on loyalists have increased significantly in recent years. Historians, however have largely neglected the wives, sisters, and mothers of loyalists.

Revolutionary Conceptions

Unwed female servants of European descent also bore children, but they had few options and little control over the outcomes. Most bastard-bearers neither planned nor welcomed their pregnancies. An illegitimate child lengthened a servant women’s term of service and brought whippings and the mandated sale or fostering of the child by the overseers of the poor. Most free American women eventually married- even if they have borne one or few illegitimate children at some earlier moments in their lives. Most enslaved Americans created, whenever humanly possible, strong family ties.

Women's Rights

Just as women of colour could find no place in the feminist movement, the reproductive rights movement held a limited pro-choice framework that did not suit to also protect the needs and rights of women of colour who had an equally difficult chance of having their children the way they wanted and raising them in an environment free of violence. That is what the reproductive justice movement sought to do. At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, women of colour including Loretta Ross, noticed that internationally women were framing their needs using a human rights framework that incorporated all types of injustices inhibiting a woman’s bodily integrity.

The Most Difficult Revolution: Women and Trade Unions

Historically trade unions were in the forefront of social reform, campaigning against child labour, against the 12‐hour day and for free public education and universal suffrage. But with their achievement of great power and influence in the modern societies they have been less sensitive to the present day exploited and oppressed — to women and guest workers and all those foreign in colour and language, in customs, sex and tastes. To be sure these groups are often unfamiliar with unions, and reluctant to join them even if invited because of the fear of employer reprisal and their weak position in the labour market. Characterised as they have been by transiency, dependency and divided loyalties, the unions long wished them away or accepted them if they behaved like native men, that is to say in an understandable way and with acceptable rationality. Although the similarities between the problems of women and foreign workers or workers of colour in the labour markets of the industrialised countries is intriguing, their oppression not unprecedented.

Scientific-technological Change and the Role of Women in Development

Women of male-generated and male-dominated technologies grows out of a consciousness of women as essential, yet unsalaried, participants in production processes. Women suffer from technological development in industrialized and developing countries and how technological developments perpetuate inequalities between nations, regions, classes, and sexes. Implementation of modern technology in agriculture affects rural women, position of women in the basic and applied sciences and in science policymaking, and also affects the place of women in selected technology-based industries.

Jimmy Carter and Women's Rights: From the White House to Islamic Feminism

Since 2009, former US President Jimmy Carter has been outspoken in his condemnation of abuses of women around the world. There was the time of departure from his stance while in the White House (1977–1981), when many feminist groups criticized him for his lack of effort on women's issues. While in the White House he courted the support of evangelicals, despite their opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment and other feminist policies; in the intervening years he has come to view conservative religious leaders as barriers to women's rights.

Authoritarian Institutions and Women's Rights

Experiencing a socially or personally disruptive event (e.g., a war or loss of a daughter due to domestic violence, respectively) facilitated activism at different stages of life in unique ways; and there were specific catalysts for activism for each stage. Those who grew up under oppressive regimes thought activism was the most “natural” response to what was going on socio-politically; for them, feelings of freedom and strength were the catalyst. Those who experienced a disruptive event in their adolescence viewed their activism as intertwined with their personal identity; for them, love, support and togetherness were the catalyst. Finally, those who experienced disruption in their adulthood viewed their activism not as identity, but simply as action. They made sense of these actions by tracing the continuity in their lives; and for them, small political acts and accomplishments were the catalyst.

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