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Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917 (Women in Culture and Society) Paperback – November 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0226041391 ISBN-10: 0226041395 Edition: Women in Culture and Society

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Product Details

  • Series: Women in Culture and Society
  • Paperback: 322 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; Women in Culture and Society edition (November 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226041395
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226041391
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,588 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Bederman (history, Notre Dame) has written a complex but intriguing account of the links between concepts of race, gender, and civilization in late 19th- and early 20th-century America. Focusing on shifting constructions of "manhood" and "civilization," she examines aspects of the lives and careers of Jack Johnson, Ida B. Wells, G. Stanley Hall, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Theodore Roosevelt, and Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of whom illustrate attempts to use these constructions as rhetorical weapons in the struggle to define basic race and gender roles. A densely packed analysis that will be appropriate primarily for scholars in the field of American cultural studies.
Anthony O. Edmonds, Ball State Univ., Muncie, Ind.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Manliness & Civilization is a cultural history of gender and race in the United States from 1880 through 1917. In Manliness & Civilization, Gail Bederman investigates the connection between powerful manhood and racial dominance as it was debated, promoted, and resisted during the decades around the turn of the century. Bederman traces a cultural reconfiguration of manhood in which Victorian ideals of self-restraint and moral manliness were challenged by new formulations of aggressive, sexualized masculinity. These new ideals celebrated both the unfettered virility of "racially" primitive men and the refined superiority of "civilized" white men, and Bederman shows how such seemingly contradictory notions came together in the larger discourse of "civilization". She illuminates this tactical interplay between ideologies and evolutionary civilization, racial dominance, and male primitivism by focusing on the lives and works of four very different Americans: G. Stanley Hall, Theodore Roosevelt, Ida B. Wells, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Beterman persuasively suggests that the historical connections between manliness and civilization retain their troubling power to this day. Manliness & Civilization is an important contribution to both American History and to Gender Studies reading lists. -- Midwest Book Review

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Wuffles on March 23, 2006
Format: Paperback
Of course Bederman is "biased," she is a human being trying to understand something with the mental tools she has available to her. So is everyone else. Bederman is called biased because the tools that she chooses to apply are different from those some readers are used to or like. Bederman very is very clear that her book is about applying particular theories and examining particular threads in history in order to make certain aspects of that history visible which are not visible under other frameworks. Bederman's history will not explain everything that happened between 1880 and 1917, even everything that happened to or was done by the figures she chooses to highlight. It would be a mistake to wander around for all of one's life trying to make everything one encounters fit within Bederman's historically specific argument, but by carefully examining the evidence available to her she does succeed in making what was merely assumed or unseen visible to modern readers.

The figures she presents seem to doing something very similar to Bederman herself: using the ideas and ways of thinking available to them for their own ends and changing them in response to what they saw in their environment. In reading the introduction and the early parts of each chapter I expected to be frustrated, even angry with many of the characters for their racism, sexism, arrogance, etc. But I wasn't. As Bederman explained the mental tools they were using their actions and writings made sense to me and I could see the ways in which they improved upon those tools, even if the results still seem unacceptable to me.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By mwreview on January 19, 2003
Format: Paperback
Gail Bederman writes a unique and impressive study regarding the changing views of American "manliness" during the decades spanning the turn of the century. In the Victorian years, "manliness" was seen as sexual and physical restraint and moderation in all things. As the 20th century drew near, however, changes in society--which included industrialization, economic instability, and rising immigration--called for a different view of "manliness." Was mankind becoming soft? Was this softness opening the door for the advancement of less "civilized" groups? It is important to note that by "manliness" and "civilization" the subjects of this book meant the "manliness" of whites and white "civilization." This attitude was the reason Jack Johnson's (black boxer) defeat of Jim Jeffries (white boxer) in 1910 was such a socially explosive event.
Bederman offers chapters on several period thinkers on the subject including Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Theodore Roosevelt. Gilman saw women as the driving force of civilization. According to this early feminist, the gender-specific roles of Victorian America and women's economic dependence upon men doomed civilized advancement. Roosevelt, on the other hand, championed a return to the more "savage" behavior of the frontiersman in his "strenuous life" speeches and writings.
Overall, Manliness and Civilization is an interesting, thought-provoking study. It has me wondering how Frederick Jackson Turner's thesis on the end of the American frontier and the Gold/Silver (was one considered more "manly"?) debates of the time ties into this topic
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By History Reader on September 6, 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is a shining example of how to apply literary theory (ideas such as "discourse") to historical study. Even those who might disagree with Professor Bederman's methodology will benefit from her lucid theoretical explanation in the introduction. In short, the book makes a strong, convincing historical case for the importance of gender in understanding how the concept of civilization was used during the Gilded Age and Progressive Era.

As one who has had some interaction with the author and knowing many others who have worked with her, I cannot resist adding that Professor Bederman has garnered immense respect from those who know her best (including many conservative Catholics and evangelical Protestants who may vehemently disagree with her on certain points). That her work comes from a specific point of view is undeniable, but to equate it with bias is both unfair and over-simplistic.

But don't take my word for this book for yourself and decide.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful By J. W. Went on April 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
After reading the reviews of this book I feel obligated to issue a contrasting view that many of the reviewers, oblivious to the gender system that invisibly yet inextricably contours their own behavior and sense of self, have missed; incidently, their reviews provide interesting insights not in any regards to the book as they utterly misinterpret the text, but rather themselves and the political texture of contemporary society.
Bederman illustrates how fin de seicle white men marshalled tropes of masculinity - their conceptions of manhood - to question African-American manhood. The narration of Ida B. Wells simply illustrates how she and other reformers inverted the gender discourse against the predominant, middle-class Anglo conception of manhood to crystallize their hypocrisy. Moreover, in no way does her feminism subvert or in some other way negate the value of this book, as it was, and remains a most valuable contribution for gender studies simply because the book shows how gender, and yes, men are gendered, is socially constructed.
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