Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650–1800

Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650–1800

Ruth H. Bloch
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: 1
Pages: 235
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650–1800
    Book Description:

    Ruth Bloch's stellar essays on the origins of Anglo-American conceptions of gender and morality are brought together in this valuable book, which collects six of her most influential pieces in one place for the first time and includes two new essays. The volume illuminates the overarching theme of her work by addressing a basic historical question: Why did the attitudes toward gender and family relations that we now consider traditional values emerge when they did? Bloch looks deeply into eighteenth-century culture to answer this question, highlighting long-term developments in religion, intellectual history, law, and literature, showing that the eighteenth century was a time of profound transformation for women's roles as wives and mothers, for ideas about sexuality, and for notions of female moral authority. She engages topics from British moral philosophy to colonial laws regarding courtship, and from the popularity of the sentimental novel to the psychology of religious revivalism. Lucid, provocative, and wide-ranging, these eight essays bring a revisionist challenge to both women's studies and cultural studies as they ask us to reconsider the origins of the system of gender relations that has dominated American culture for two hundred years.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93647-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-18)

    At the beginning of the twenty-first century we are nearing the collapse of a system of gender relations that has dominated American culture for two hundred years. When politicians, journalists, and social commentators bemoan the contemporary “crisis of the family,” they point to divorce, single motherhood, institutional childcare, latchkey children, youth violence, and other departures from supposedly traditional family life. To them the past represents a contrasting ideal, one of enduring marriages, parental authority, youthful obedience, paternal financial responsibility, and maternal childcare. Whether or not such practices actually prevailed in families of the past, the nostalgia for them reflects longstanding...

  5. PART ONE Overviews

    • CHAPTER 1 A Culturalist Critique of Trends in Feminist Theory (1993)
      (pp. 21-41)

      “A Culturalist Critique of Feminist Theory,” written in the early 1990s during the height of the debate over postmodernism, takes issue with essentialist, Marxist, and Foucauldian approaches to the construction of gender and argues instead for a “culturalist” interpretation. I maintain that changes in gender relations need to be understood in relation to the historical evolution of larger cultural constellations of symbols, values, and ideas (including religion, literature, moral philosophy, and politics). The core of the argument is that gender is far more than a metaphor for power or wealth, that it derives as importantly from intangible definitions of meaning....

    • CHAPTER 2 Untangling the Roots of Modern Sex Roles: A Survey of Four Centuries of Change (1978)
      (pp. 42-54)

      The 1978 date of the essay “Untangling the Roots” is disclosed by the words “sex roles” in its title. Were it written today, “gender” would surely be routinely substituted for “sex” and “sexual symbolism.” Many of the references in the citations also evoke the bygone scholarly era of the 1970s, reminding us that so much has been written on the history of European and American women since then. Compared to my current perspective, this essay gives more attention to material forces, particularly to the onset of industrialization. And it tends to assume an overly tidy fit between normative pronouncements about...

  6. PART TWO Colonial Transitions

    • CHAPTER 3 American Feminine Ideals in Transition: The Rise of the Moral Mother, 1785–1815 (1978)
      (pp. 57-77)

      In “American Feminine Ideals in Transition,” first published in 1978, I describe the confluence of religious and radical Enlightenment views of motherhood. I zero in on the years 1785–1815 not to highlight the American Revolution but to illustrate how much literary images of mothers had changed since the seventeenth century. In keeping with other interpretations of the 1970s, I still viewed early industrialism as a pivotal factor in producing a newly idealized image of motherhood. My emphasis, however, here as elsewhere, is cultural and intellectual, and the essay for the most part concerns the transition from Puritanism to an...

    • CHAPTER 4 Women and the Law of Courtship in Eighteenth-Century America (2001)
      (pp. 78-101)

      This previously unpublished essay underscores the power of the law in early Anglo-America by turning to the history of legislative and judicial actions. While less rooted in intellectual history than the other pieces contained in this collection, it nonetheless similarly focuses on cultural preconceptions of family and gender relations to account for a transformation in the legal regulation of courtship. The essay traces these changes from the late seventeenth through the eighteenth centuries, concentrating on distinctive attributes of American colonial law as compared to the law of England. In its institutional orientation toward legislatures and courts, it serves as a...

    • CHAPTER 5 Women, Love, and Virtue in the Thought of Edwards and Franklin (1993)
      (pp. 102-118)

      Among intellectual historians of British colonial America, comparing Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin is a timeworn pedagogical exercise. The two men’s canonical stature and intriguing contrasts in style, vocation, values, and belief system typically situate them on opposite ends of a continuum representing eighteenth-century American thought: Franklin the rationalist, Edwards the Calvinist; Franklin the practical doer, Edwards the otherworldly idealist; Franklin the humorist, Edwards the preacher of hellfire. The list goes on. In this essay, however, I seek to press these classic differences into the service of gender analysis by changing the terms of comparison. The essay focuses upon topics...

  7. PART THREE Revolutionary Syntheses

    • CHAPTER 6 Religion, Literary Sentimentalism, and Popular Revolutionary Ideology (1994)
      (pp. 121-135)

      Preface This essay, the first of three on the American Revolution, situates the changing discourse of gender within the larger frameworks of fictional narratives, religious expression, and political thought. It takes issue with recent historians’ tendencies to divide revolutionary ideology into two opposing sets of values: the individualistic, associated with liberalism, and the collectivistic, associated with classical republicanism. Instead it points to the ways in which this apparent contradiction was mediated outside the boundaries of explicit political argument within the realm of popular culture. The seemingly apolitical symbolism of religion, gender, and family helped to bring together the antistatist individualism...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Gendered Meanings of Virtue in Revolutionary America (1987)
      (pp. 136-153)

      First appearing in 1987 in the wake of Joan Scott’s pathbreaking article, “Gender: A Useful Category of Analysis” of 1986, this essay seeks to uncover the latent assumptions about gender informing American Revolutionary thought. Like the previous essay in this volume on “Religion, Literary Sentimentalism, and Popular Revolutionary Ideology,” it moves away from the limited arguments about republicanism and liberalism that have dominated recent historical work on Revolutionary ideology, stressing instead the multiple and divergent connections between the Revolution and notions of ideal masculinity and femininity. Underscoring the merger of evangelical and radical Enlightenment ideals of motherhood, “The Gendered Meanings...

    • CHAPTER 8 Gender and the Public/Private Dichotomy in American Revolutionary Thought (2001)
      (pp. 154-166)

      This concluding essay, published for the first time in this volume, refines several issues that have been addressed in the preceding essays. Like the two other essays in Part 3, it explores the relationship of the Revolution to changes in feminine ideals and views of woman’s role in society. Expressing uneasiness about according too much causal significance to the Revolution as a singular event, however, this essay departs from the others in advancing a more subtle, multi-faceted account of changing notions of domesticity. The essay elucidates several alternative ways that late-eighteenth-century Americans conceived of the public/private distinction in relation to...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 167-216)
  9. Index
    (pp. 217-225)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 226-226)