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.
Table of Contents
You are viewing the table of contents
You do not have access to this
on JSTOR. Try logging in through your institution for access.