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HIS 315K - The Bonds of Womanhood Spark Notes

HIS 315K - The Bonds of Womanhood Spark Notes - The Bonds...

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The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 - Review The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 NANCY F. COTT, 1997 New Haven: Yale University Press pp. xxx + 225; $15.00 paper The 20th-anniversary edition of Nancy Cott's The Bonds of Womanhood provides an occasion for revisiting the still widely influential text. Its topically arranged chapters build an argument by now familiar to many U.S. historians: shared vocations, single-sex education, a religion of the heart, and the canon of domesticity generated "sisterhood" and gender-group consciousness among middle-class, Northeastern, white women. The 19th-century doctrine of separate spheres replaced earlier notions of female inferiority with a model of sexual difference, creating a sense of "rising expectations" that led to greater female self-assertion and even, for a small minority, to the women's rights movement. Cott has added a new preface that locates the otherwise unrevised edition in its historiographical and political moment. The book begins with women's work, but Cott now views the chapter on domesticity as its foremost contribution. Updating her terminology, Cott labels domesticity a discourse and recognizes that it was as significant in middle-class formation as the economic factors she originally stressed. Reviewing work by Christine Stansell, Jacqueline Jones, and others, the new preface outlines the uses of domestic discourse to police the poor and to solidify a white, middle- class identity against various others. While African-American, immigrant, and working-class women were judged lacking by the measure of idealized domesticity, they nevertheless used it strategically to advance their own claims. By doing so, observes Cott, they paradoxically reinforced the power of domestic discourse. Influenced in the 1970s by the feminist practice of consciousness-raising, Cott interpreted the "bonds of womanhood" as generating "sex-consciousness" among women, a necessary prerequisite for feminism. Cott acknowledged that the "bonds of womanhood" more often encouraged conformity with gender norms, but it is the discovery of feminist potential that satisfies the book's search for origins. Cott distinguished between women who used their
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