Gender and the Public/Private Dichotomy in American Revolutionary Thought

Ruth H. Bloch

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

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780520234055
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936478 | DOI:
Gender and the Public/Private Dichotomy in American Revolutionary Thought

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This chapter investigates the relationship of the Revolution to changes in feminine ideals and views of woman's role in society. It also explains the several alternative ways that late-eighteenth-century Americans conceived of the public/private distinction in relation to gender, presenting them all as products of developments in Anglo-American culture that predate the Revolution. It then questions the monolithic stature usually accorded by historians to early-nineteenth-century middle-class Anglo-American ideas about “separate spheres.” It shows that post-Revolutionary Americans articulated at least two conflicting conceptions of gender, which remain today. The emergent ideology of “separate spheres,” which valorized female domesticity, found little to commend in public life. Virtue was instead increasingly located in the family. In revolutionary America, profound changes in gender relations merged with the redefinition of public and private. Gender dichotomization has been a constant target of modern liberal feminism, but the public/private distinction has proved far more intractable.

Keywords: gender dichotomization; public/private dichotomy; revolutionary America; feminine ideals; Anglo-American culture; separate spheres; female domesticity

Chapter.  5442 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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