Suspect Citizens

Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue, and Vice in Backlash Politics

Jocelyn M. Boryczka
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Suspect Citizens
    Book Description:

    What drives the cycle of backlashes against women's ongoing struggle for equality, freedom, and inclusion in American politics? In her innovative and provocative book, Suspect Citizens, Jocelyn Boryczka presents a feminist conceptual history that shows how American politics have largely defined women in terms of their reproductive and socializing functions. This framework not only denies women full citizenship, but also devalues the active political engagement of all citizens who place each other and their government under suspicion.

    Developing the gendered dynamics of virtue and vice, Boryczka exposes the paradox of how women are perceived as both virtuous moral guardians and vice-ridden suspect citizens capable of jeopardizing the entire nation's exceptional future. She uses wide-ranging examples from the Puritans and contemporary debates over sex education to S&M lesbian feminists and the ethics of care to show how to move beyond virtue and vice to a democratic feminist ethics.

    Suspect Citizens advances a politics of collective responsibility and belonging.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0895-2
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Moral Guardians but Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue, and Vice in the Western Political Imaginary
    (pp. 1-25)

    Five thousand women formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade Protest on January 15, 1968, when they descended on Washington, D.C., to petition Congress to end the Vietnam War. Protest organizers encouraged participants to use as leverage their traditional roles as mothers and wives to gain a sympathetic hearing from legislators. The New York Radical Feminists (NYRF) rejected this conventional strategy and, carrying picket signs in gloved hands, marched amid thousands to stage a protest within a protest.¹ This small band of thirty women dressed all in black walked behind a huge blow-up doll wearing a blank face, blonde curls, and feminine...

  5. 1 Conceptual Locations: Where Virtue, Vice, and Citizenship Intersect
    (pp. 26-43)

    Virtue, vice, and citizenship belong to the tradition of Western political theory that, while beyond the scope of this study in its entirety, provides the background necessary for exploring how these concepts operate in the American political script. Key conceptual locations in ancient and medieval Western political theory and in the modern political thought of Mary Wollstonecraft and Alexis de Tocqueville capture how male and female virtue and vice change in relation to public and private life, which results in changes to citizenship. The infinite and finite aspects of virtue and vice intersect with their moral and civic dimensions to...

  6. 2 The Religious Roots of Moral Guardianship: American Women as the Daughters of Eve and Zion
    (pp. 44-64)

    Standing aboard theArbellaas it sailed to Salem in 1629, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony John Winthrop made a proclamation to his fledgling Puritan community that made an indelible impact on the American political script. “We must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill,” he stated. “[T]he Eyes of all people are upon us; so that if we shall deal falsely with our god in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us.”¹ Winthrop’s words, taken from Matthew 5:14, capture the essence of biblical thought in...

  7. 3 “Back to Virtue” Backlash Politics: Privileging Irresponsibility
    (pp. 65-87)

    Women’s moral character, whether at the turn of the nineteenth or twenty-first century, represents a site of struggle in “family values” debates, a feature of “back to virtue” backlash politics. Following the American Revolution, women’s education moved into the national spotlight at the beginning of the nineteenth century as political leaders attempted to hold together the fledgling republic’s fragile coalition of independent states. Challenges to the traditional family structure threatened to undermine the nation’s patriarchal order.¹ American men increasingly avoided marriage. American women left farms for cities and wage-paying jobs, married later, exercised more choice in their marital decisions, and...

  8. 4 Suspect Citizenship: From Lowell Mill Girls to Lesbian Feminists and Sadomasochism
    (pp. 88-114)

    Battles over sex roles, sexual practices, and sexuality become “wars” at turning points in U.S. political history when women, knowingly or not, stand in opposition to moral guardianship. The Lowell mill girls—the first nearly all-female labor force in the United States between 1826 and 1850—challenged mid-nineteenth-century conceptions of True Womanhood merely by stepping onto the factory floors of textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts. A belief system dominant in the northern states during this period, True Womanhood based its moral standards on white upper- and middle-class wives and mothers serving as pillars of moral stability and domestic tranquility amid...

  9. 5 “Ozzie and Harriet” Morality: Resetting Liberal Democracy’s Moral Compass
    (pp. 115-138)

    Disorder and chaos were spiraling Jacksonian America into a whirl-wind of change when Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont stepped onto U.S. shores in 1831. Universal white manhood suffrage, immigration, urbanization, and early industrialization were driving economic and political transitions that also transformed the family from a social institution shaped by European aristocracy into one fitting American democracy. Equality, Tocqueville observed, essentially dismantled the hierarchical aristocratic family to the degree that “in America the family, if one takes the word in its Roman and aristocratic sense, no longer exists.”¹ Tocqueville links the family to broader political change as he...

  10. 6 The Legacy of Virtue and Vice: Mary Wollstonecraft and Contemporary Feminist Care Ethics
    (pp. 139-160)

    Changes in the family, whether in the eighteenth or twenty-first century, generate highly charged debates over women’s role as moral guardians assigned to protect the nation’s future, and they arouse societal suspicions about women’s citizenship that fuel backlash politics. Mary Wollstonecraft, inA Vindication of the Rights of Woman, challenged the eighteenth-century European ideal of the sentimental family as depicted in Jean-Jacques Rousseau’sEmile, in which romantic love between husband and wife in the domestic realm prevails against public life’s harsh realities. This sentimental view of the family maintained women’s place in private life even as the philosophy of the...

  11. Conclusion: Beyond Virtue and Vice: Toward a Democratic Feminist Ethics
    (pp. 161-174)

    The gendered moral logic of the virtue-vice dualism plays out on the stage of American politics through the tension within women’s political identity as moral guardians but suspect citizens. Assigning women the double burden of moral responsibility for self, family, and the nation equates any real or perceived failure to fulfill their civic obligations with traitorous behavior and triggers backlash politics. This conceptual history of virtue and vice highlights key junctures in American political development that affected women’s relationship to the public sphere to illustrate how this dominant moral dualism limits women to the private sphere as a way to...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 175-184)
  13. References
    (pp. 185-194)
  14. Index
    (pp. 195-200)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 201-201)