Nancy Bercaw, ed. Gender and the Southern Body Politic: Essays and Comments by Peter Bardaglio, Kathleen M. Brown, et al. Chancellor's Symposium Series. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000. xix + 259 pp. $35.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57806-257-7.
Reviewed by Randolph Hollingsworth (Kentucky Virtual University)
Published on H-South (March, 2001)
Expanding Definitions of Southern Politics
Expanding Definitions of Southern Politics
In early October 1997 eleven nationally acclaimed scholars in Southern History came to the campus of the University of Mississippi to participate in the Porter L. Fortune Chancellor's Symposium in Southern History. The participants -- Peter Bardaglio, Kathleen Brown, Laura Edwards, Jacquelyn Hall, Tera Hunter, Winthrop Jordan, Chana Kai Lee, Nancy MacLean, Stephanie McCurry, Louise Newman, and Bryant Simon -- used gender as a lens through which to analyze Southern political history. They highlighted and examined recent scholarship that emphasized the importance of gender in the construction of power and politics in the South. The boundaries between seemingly private domains and public power has been breached, and historians of late have become more sensitive to the contexts in which the private sphere's relations and experiences shaped public power.
Nancy Dunlap Bercaw, now an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, organized the Symposium and edited the collection of papers. Bercaw's own 1996 dissertation, "Politics of Household during the Transition from Slavery to Freedom in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, 1861-1876," placed her firmly in the center of this new trend of Southern history, and her introduction to the resulting book of essays boldly stakes a claim for full recognition of the impact of these scholars' research.
As a whole, the book effectively meets Paula Baker's challenge two decades ago that historians expand the study of politics and "go beyond the definition of 'political' offered by nineteenth-century men."  Bercaw points out that these essays help us to study Southern politics in a way that can be understood only if the "public" sphere is interlaced with references to its relations to the "private" or domestic sphere. Thereby "the study of politics becomes the study of the entire body politic" (p. xii).
Jacquelyn Dowd Hall's powerful opening essay is entitled, "'You Must Remember This': Autobiography as Social Critique." In it Hall concentrates on the power of politics in women's lives. Much like her subjects, the three Lumpkin sisters of South Carolina, Hall refuses to take a political "side" and instead embraces "multiple levels of meaning" (p. 3) to engage our imaginations and break out of the norm -- our canons, our great narratives, the politics of history. In a "doubled subjectivity" (p. 15), Hall narrates the importance of the white women's roles in the construction of the memories they called the Lost Cause and at the same time explores the role of history and memory in historical writing of our own times. She tells her reader, "My structure is recursive; like memory, it does not move in a straight line" (p. 4). As she reveals the intriguing details of the Lumpkins' familial and political identities, she explains how personal memories, social memories, historical writing, and political imagination of the future interrelate. As did her subject, the autobiographer Katharine Du Pre Lumpkin, Hall "made history a weapon for dismantling social memory, but she also used memory (and autobiography) to breathe life into history" (p. 27). Hall reminds us that not only is the personal political, but the political is personal. 
Kathleen Brown used the conceptual framework of the historical southern household in her essay, "Nathaniel Bacon and the Dilemma of Colonial Masculinity." The frontier of Virginia forced a greater emphasis on the ethnicity of the male colonists as they proclaimed their gender role as protector of their families against the violence they faced in Indian territory. Brown sees the classist and racial violence of Bacon's Rebellion as instigating a new sense of importance for the Anglo-Virginian male's gender identity as protector of his home and dependents. As a consequence, the mark of manhood and of whiteness was preserved in graphic terms by the protection of a particular household. "Seen in this light," writes Brown, "the rebellion was not the act of self-interested householders, unmindful of the greater good of the colony, but of activist men with a heightened sense of duty" (p. 53). The private realm of home and kin became written into law as the basis of a newly iterated and ordered colonial society. 
Laura Edwards also examines the complexities of the Southern household in her essay, "Law, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Patriarchal Authority in the Antebellum South." Rather than accept the notion that we already know the delineations of gender and racial roles in a white Southern household, Edwards wonders aloud if we know much at all about how a Southern slaveowning family functioned and thought. Through the patriarchal words of activities of lawmakers and judges, the history of white and black familial dependents has seemed obvious: "naturally" subordinated within a domestic sphere, white women and slaves capitulated to the status of victims.
Edwards looks at the slivers of evidence that shine out from legal cases involving violence and finds proof of dependents' non-acquiescence to the patriarchal norm. Since "the law made some kinds of violence more visible -- and more legitimate -- than other kinds," writes Edwards, then we have to find where we can the "political implications of domestic dependency" (p. 69). In small acts of resistance and in crime, those who were labeled dependents showed they could think outside the norm, take action, and succeed in creating their own worlds separate from their social, political, and economic masters. Finally, the law in the antebellum South was not as complete as we might today characterize it. Edwards posits that many white men, whom the law would designate as holders of power and authority, could not live up to the prescribed role of patriarch. They "failed because domestic dependents fought back, physically pushing their way into public space" (p. 86). 
Stephanie McCurry's essay takes us into the Civil War to find that female citizens and slaves had their own sense of what the future could hold for them. McCurry looks at what the government wrote and acted upon in regards to white women and slaves, and she finds that the powerful white male elite admitted to the political clout of these so-called dependents and disenfranchised. "Citizens, Soldiers Wives and 'Hiley Hope Up' Slaves: The Problem of Political Obligation in the Civil War South" is a fresh look at how the Civil War affected the home front -- or rather, how the home front often defined the Civil War. The definitions of political history stretch to include the "other" and the reader is emboldened to remember that being a citizen is more than just voting during an election or joining an army during a war. By quoting from an Alabama yeoman farmer's letter to Jefferson Davis about how the slaves in his area felt hopeful of freedom in May of 1861, McCurry points to the disfranchised and reminds us to include them in the political story. She expands on Lynn Hunt's arguments that "all politics has a 'family model,' every revolution its 'family romance(s),' and that every state attempts to harness forms of deference, loyalty, and obligation customary to households and family relations" (p. 107).
Like Nancy Cott and Linda Kerber, McCurry points out that public or political order relies on the formation and maintenance of a prescribed gender order. Summing up various arguments in feminist critical theory, McCurry writes succinctly: "War made the man; woman was the ostensible reason and indispensable witness" (p. 113). Women, whether the "soldier's wife" or enslaved, "was ever in political view" (p. 118). 
Bryant Simon's essay lands the reader squarely in the twentieth century. This book broaches no arguments over Southern women's role in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fight for suffrage, for the rise of unions, for the New Woman, or professionalism. We turn again to the male psyche in crisis times of war and deprivation. Echoing Brown's emphasis on a single ethnic identity for white males, Simon describes Teddy Roosevelt's "school of morality" (p. 141) and the Anglo ideal in which the male bodies "all look the same" (p. 151) and thereby portray a strong and healthy nation during the Depression.
In "'New Men in Body and Soul": The Civilian Conservation Corps and the Transformation of Male Bodies and the Body Politic," Simon shows how Franklin D. Roosevelt's favorite New Deal program crafted the white middle class dream of a strong nation embodied by virile, working (shirtless) men. Spineless white immigrants not yet assimilated, urban gangsters, native workers out of a job or forced off their farms, and the internal enemies in the form of black men and political radicals -- all combined to threaten the national identity and hegemony. By conveying the masculine ideal in the images of the CCC posters, the government created a "new white body politic" (p. 160) to last us for decades. The image of the CCC man continues to haunt us though with a new twist. "No longer the property of the state, he is the product of Madison Avenue, and he sells himself as a private fantasy rather than the public icon of a healthy nation ... Now he stands in the service of consumption, not politics" (pp. 153-4). 
The final essay is "Redesigning Dixie with Affirmative Action: Race, Gender, and the Desegregation of the Southern Textile Mill World," by Nancy MacLean. She finds the process of integration described too simply and offers the story of the desegregation of the southern textile industry as a contrast to the norm. With a labor force composed primarily of women workers, the textile mills in the South during the post-World War II era experienced few of the violent racial clashes evident in other industries or in public arenas. She emphasizes that the origin of affirmative action was not in Washington D.C. but in "public and private responses to widely scattered popular struggles in workplaces and communities around the country" (p. 164). Black women workers by the early 1960s pushed for integration in the textile industry that faced a labor shortage. Their struggles for freedom from discrimination exposed the limitations of the new laws.
The subtle actions taken by white mill women, especially the older ones, to maintain racial divides provide MacLean with a way to describe how gender functions in a way to complicate the usual depictions of racial integration during the civil rights era. Nevertheless, it is the efforts of black women such as Daisy Crawford that MacLean wishes to highlight and show us "that integration is not a thing but a complex and contradictory process, less a noun than a verb open to many modifiers" (p. 191). MacLean's last sentence is a call for a redesign of Southern political history: including race and gender in the mix is not our only task. We need also to re-situate how we place the disfranchised in the political narrative. "Why they got so far should interest us as at least as much as how they were thwarted" (p. 191). 
The short commentaries that follow the essays stimulate further thought and rarely stand in the way of the flow of energy and creativity these scholars generate. Interestingly, the first two, by Winthrop D. Jordon and Peter Bardaglio, included graphic visions of emasculation -- not insignificant metaphors considering the current state of the politics of Southern history. Jordon worries about "what particular portion of King Charles I's anatomy was whacked off" (p. 61). Bardaglio connotes that the challenge of Edwards's work to Eugene Genovese's portrayal of the planter world is similar also to the demise of Charles I. While conflating royal absolutism with the Genovesean paradigm of Southern paternalism, Bardaglio invokes the violent death and emasculation of an historical white southern man Edwards had described in her essay. Heads and bodies abound in meaning.
The commentaries move finally to Chana Kai Lee's thoughtful reminder that if racial integration was not a monolithic process, then we cannot be satisfied with historical resources that fall from the voices, letters, and ledgers of white men and women. The complications of this new historicism are endless and the challenge is ours to take them up. Anyone who claims to have crafted a "definitive" history in such an exciting climate claims a false hegemony and overlooks the riches that diversity in intellectual life of the mind brings us all.
. Paula Baker, "The Domestication of Politics: Women and American Political Society, 1780-1920," American Historical Review 89 (June 1984): p. 647.
. Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, director of the Southern Oral History Program, is the Julia Cherry Spruill Professor of History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has written many influential essays and books, including Like a Family: The Making of a Southern Cotton Mill World (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1987) and The Revolt Against Chivalry: Jessie Daniel Ames and the Women's Campaign Against Lynching_ (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979).
. Kathleen M. Brown, associate professor of history at the University of Pennsylvania, is author also of Good Wives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs: Gender, Race, and Power in Colonial Virginia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996).
. Laura F. Edwards, associate professor of history at the University of California at Los Angeles, has also written Gendered Strife and Confusion: The Political Culture of Reconstruction (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997).
. Stephanie McCurry, associate professor of history at Northwestern University, is the author of Masters of Small Worlds: Yeoman Households, Gender Relations, and the Political Culture of the Antebellum South Carolina Low Country (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995).
. Bryant Simon, associate professor of history at the University of Georgia, has also written A Fabric of Defeat: The Politics of South Carolina Millhands, 1910-1948 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998).
. Nancy MacLean is associate professor of history and a fellow at the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University. She has also written Behind the Mask of Chivalry: The Making of the Second Ku Klux Klan (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994).
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Randolph Hollingsworth. Review of Bercaw, Nancy, ed., Gender and the Southern Body Politic: Essays and Comments by Peter Bardaglio, Kathleen M. Brown, et al.
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