Separated by Their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (Paperback)Mary Beth Norton (author)
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In Separated by Their Sex, Mary Beth Norton offers a bold genealogy that shows how gender came to determine the right of access to the Anglo-American public sphere by the middle of the eighteenth century. Earlier, high-status men and women alike had been recognized as appropriate political actors, as exemplified during and after Bacon's Rebellion by the actions of-and reactions to-Lady Frances Berkeley, wife of Virginia's governor. By contrast, when the first ordinary English women to claim a political voice directed group petitions to Parliament during the Civil War of the 1640s, men relentlessly criticized and parodied their efforts. Even so, as late as 1690 Anglo-American women's political interests and opinions were publicly acknowledged.
Norton traces the profound shift in attitudes toward women's participation in public affairs to the age's cultural arbiters, including John Dunton, editor of the Athenian Mercury, a popular 1690s periodical that promoted women's links to husband, family, and household. Fittingly, Dunton was the first author known to apply the word "private" to women and their domestic lives. Subsequently, the immensely influential authors Richard Steele and Joseph Addison (in the Tatler and the Spectator) advanced the notion that women's participation in politics-even in political dialogues-was absurd. They and many imitators on both sides of the Atlantic argued that women should confine themselves to home and family, a position that American women themselves had adopted by the 1760s. Colonial women incorporated the novel ideas into their self-conceptions; during such "private" activities as sitting around a table drinking tea, they worked to define their own lives. On the cusp of the American Revolution, Norton concludes, a newly gendered public-private division was firmly in place.
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Number of pages: 272
Weight: 454 g
Dimensions: 235 x 156 x 15 mm
"As Norton notes, this book is a prequel to Liberty's Daughters. Norton had found that in 1750, men and women alike considered the 'fair sex' inferior and largely irrelevant to the world beyond their households. In Separated by Their Sex, she searches for the origins of this paradigm and specifically for its signature dichotomy of male/public versus female/private.... Norton's contribution is to chart in meticulous detail the political options available primarily to elite women and the subsequent eradication of those options. A little book that deals with big issues in an Atlantic world context, Separated by Their Sex is also an object lesson in the value of digital sources and methods for historians. Norton recognizes the importance of language: using full-text searches in massive collections of digitized materials enabled her to chart rhetorical innovations (and hence cultural trends) with remarkable precision."-- Cynthia A. Kierner * Journal of American History *
"Norton's book brings a welcome historical specificity with a focus on words and politics. For readers wondering what there is left to say about the public/private split, Norton reminds us that binary concepts have a specific political and cultural history.... The public/private splite, Norton argues, had one genealogy, the 'feminine private sphere,' and the idea that politics was an exclusively male domain had different ones, each deserving its own history.... It should, in the best way of provocative work, inspire additional comparative studies of women's words.... Norton's work provides an essential framework for future investigations."* Social History *
"Senior early American women's history scholar Norton, who also understands English sources, is ideally situated to ponder the intellectual worlds of early modern Anglo-Americans. Building on her work in Founding Mothers and Fathers, these essays interrogate the changing ways people understood the relationship of public to private, one of the most persistent issues in women's history. Recommended."* Choice *
"This is an enlightening and insightful study which builds upon Norton's decades of thinking and writing about the history of American women, and is essential reading for scholars of gender in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England and its American colonies."-- Natalie Zacek * English Historical Review *
"Separated by Their Sex grapples with a fundamental question in early American women's history and presents an important missing piece to aid our understanding of the creation of a private female sphere antithetical to a male public/political realm."-- Clare Lyons, University of Maryland, author of Sex among the Rabble
"Challenging previously held views, Mary Beth Norton shows that the growing exclusion of women from politics and public life at the time of the American Revolution had not always been the case. Through a brilliant analysis of English and American sources, Norton traces the complex changes that produced a more rigidly defined definition of sex roles. This is transatlantic history at its best."-- Rosemarie Zagarri, author of Revolutionary Backlash: Women and Politics in the Early American Republic
"Mary Beth Norton is always bold, always challenging, always ambitious. In this stunningly researched new book, Norton reconfigures our thinking about women's status in Britain and America during the long century after the English Civil War by mapping a shift in worldview from hierarchy to gender. Separated by their Sex will stir interest and debate."-- Edith Gelles, Stanford University, author of Abigail and John: Portrait of a Marriage
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