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Sexual politics of slavery

opinion

Dayton and Lisa Levenstein have done a brilliant job corralling recent publications in U.

They open their Sexual politics of slavery by contrasting the current generational splits among feminist activists with the relative unity among scholars of women's and gender history and remind us of the field's long and deep connections to feminist politics.

Noting the dynamic relationship between women's and gender history and feminist politics, they convincingly argue that the simultaneous explication of race and gender has produced radical questions about intersectionality, relational differences among and between women, overlapping constructions of sexuality and gender, and the unfixed relationship between gender identity and Sexual politics of slavery. Yet Dayton and Levenstein say very little about the racial and sexual politics of the late twentieth century that provoked radical changes in the field of women's and gender history.

Moreover, the scholarship of the last ten years reflects not only an engagement with the sexual and racial politics of the late twentieth century but also a radical shift in the field of women's and gender history that began in the s. For decades, women of color in various disciplines and women's historians working in the fields of African American, southern, and labor history had been quietly insisting on the significance of examining race and gender together.

The racialized gender politics of the Ronald Reagan—George H. Bush era finally forced feminist scholars to insist that their scholarship be heard in national politics and to articulate more nuanced theories of race and gender.

Kirsten E. Wood

The categories that feminists and women's historians theorized in the scholarship of the s and s were arguments for gender equality that drew on arguments for racial equality. The backlash against women's equality in the s and s provided a covert way to undermine the redistributive goals of racial equality and provoked new theories for understanding intersectionality.

Most significantly, Anita Hill's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas had sexually harassed her challenged women's and gender historians to reconsider the powerful and all-encompassing constructions of race, gender, and sexuality, reengage old questions about sexual and racial violence, and push beyond static and unitary formulations of race and gender to include new ideas about class and sexuality.

The convergence of race, sexual politics, and sexual violence that had been at the nexus of both African American women's and southern women's history were at the heart of the Hill-Thomas controversy.

The hearings, however, made painfully clear that theories on race and gender had left feminist activists and scholars ill-equipped for the theoretical task at hand. Few outside African American women's history had grappled with questions regarding the dual impact of sexual and racial violence on African American women and the relative invisibility of these women in the fields of both African American and women's history.

Because southerners had built a system of racial oppression that depended on a gendered rationale—the protection of white southern womanhood from the alleged threat of black men—they understood race and gender as mutually constitutive. Elsa Barkley Brown questioned: But violence against women—lynching, rape, and other forms of violence—is not.

In the aftermath of the hearings, both Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and Elsa Barkley Brown put forward new theories to problematize the assumptions embedded in African American and women's history that made black women invisible. She points to African American jazz traditions and black women's quilts as cultural models for theorizing women's history and feminist politics in nonlinear ways that not Sexual politics of slavery embrace multiple voices and different perspectives but also understand the diverse ways race, class, and gender Sexual politics of slavery and inform women's lives in different ways.

I saw distilled in the Thomas hearings many of the preoccupations of my book: Those issues are as pressing as they were twenty years ago. Indeed, the hearings and their reverberations—as well as the evolution of women's history—give them more urgency than ever before. In the wake of the Thomas hearings, historians of women called for a more nuanced application of race and gender theory that included black women's realities, redirected the study of women's history—and gender history in particular—and inspired scholarship that changed mainstream narratives of American history.

The call to make black women more visible and central to our understandings of racial and sexual violence led to a proliferation "Sexual politics of slavery" literature that has changed how we think about a range of issues from slavery to the civil rights movement. Other work focuses on how black women and white women informed and shaped the racial and sexual politics of Reconstruction and the Jim Crow South.

Edwards's Gendered Strife and Confusion, and Hannah Rosen's Terror in the Heart of Freedom broaden the definition of politics to include the diverse ways that black women resisted white supremacy. Sexual politics of slavery that women's activism, especially black women's, was central to the black freedom struggle, these scholars have made possible longer and broader narratives and fundamentally changed the way we think about both the civil rights and women's rights movements.

“The sexual politics of slavery...

For example, McGuire argues that black women's protests against sexual assault and interracial rape fueled civil rights campaigns throughout the South from World War II through the black power movement, compelling a reconsideration of even the immediate causes of the classical phase of the civil Sexual politics of slavery movement.

Just as the racial politics of the late twentieth century required women's and gender historians to embrace more fully a theory of intersectionality, "Sexual politics of slavery" sexual politics of the era also forced scholars to ask new questions and reconsider old formulations of gender and sexuality. John D'Emilio and Estelle Freedman's Intimate Matters gave legitimacy to the emerging field of sexual history and sparked new questions.

Davis's Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold, made visible gay and lesbian history, challenged a linear model of historical progress from repression toward sexual liberation, blurred the boundary between homosexuality and heterosexuality—forcing a rethinking of the sharp binary in favor of a continuum—and set the stage for Joanne Meyerowitz's How Sex Changed, Peggy Pascoe's What Comes Naturally, and Margot Canaday's The Straight State. Moreover, the overlapping racial and sexual politics Sexual politics of slavery the late twentieth century Sexual politics of slavery attention to the fine line between sexual pleasure and sexual danger and inspired new research on reproduction and abortion, masculinity and homosexuality, sexual representations in popular culture and politics, the connections between religion, law and sexuality, and medical technology and the gendered body.

Leslie Reagan's When Abortion Was a Crime confirms that abortion has been a common procedure in America since the eighteenth century, both when it was legal and illegal. Working at the intersections of race, class, and sexuality, Reagan argues that antiabortion activity correlates with periods of high anxiety about race, feminism, and sex.

Deeply committed to feminist politics, scholars of women's and gender history have produced a body of literature with political and social implications well beyond the academy. No longer merely a field unto itself, women's and gender history continues to inform our understanding of the U.

The election of Barack Obama as the first African American president, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the economic collapse of Wall Street, attacks on the rights of immigrants, the rise of Tea Party, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the campaign for same-sex marriage rights, the increase in sex trafficking, and the growing war on women's reproductive rights set new challenges, many of which scholars of women's and gender history have already begun to tackle.

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