Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Case-study: The Role of Gender and Sexuality in Whiteness

Yet again I bring you a paper written for school, this one on the role gender and sexuality play in whiteness in some texts that we read in class. This will be a three part series, one posted every day. I do not know if, at the beginning of the week, I will have access to a computer. Myself and my grandad, brother, father and uncle will be on our way to Las Vegas to wrap up my aunt's affairs, I will have my laptop with me but who knows if I will find wifi to connect to. If I do, expect to see me blogging about the trip. If not, there will be saved posts coming up when I get home. But for now, enjoy the fruits of my labors!

Part One

Gender and sexuality have played important roles in perpetuating and maintaining the legitimacy of whiteness. Because gender is a social construct, the way a society views gender can be manipulated to fit changing social needs, and those needs frequently fundamentally normalize whiteness. Similarly, as understandings of sexuality have changed, the newly emerging narratives also frequently appeal to normalized understandings of white supremacy to acquire legitimacy in the cultural imagination. In this essay, I am going to explore three ways gender and sexuality have maintained and reinforced whiteness; specifically, through the ideas of “modern womanhood,”[1] “normal sexuality,”[2] and the archetypal “gay white male.”[3]

To begin, the first incarnation of the KKK “summoned white men to protect threatened white womanhood and white female purity.”[4] This KKK utilized an understanding of imperiled white womanhood as a rallying cry against Black men in particular. But, in the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan “modern womanhood” was utilized differently, to unite the white women themselves behind the banner of white supremacy in a guise of feminist solidarity and social activism.[5] Women, now enfranchised, objected to being left out of their husband’s activities. Citing reasons ranging from: protection from physical harm no longer being justified, to fraternal secrecy violating “the essence of ‘new marriages’ in which women were equal partners with their husbands,”[6] to demanding why “white native-born Protestant women [should] be excluded from the Klan…along with such inferior groups as the ‘Knights of Columbus, Jews or negroes”[7] these women demanded recognition of their new rights.

Conceptions of “modern womanhood” dictated the right of women to be involved in public community life and this belief was assimilated into the prevailing community structures of white supremacy (the KKK). As a result, the WKKK (Women of the Ku Klux Klan) was founded; a group which allowed white Protestant native-born American women the ability to work for their own causes within the white supremacist community of their husbands and fathers. Importantly, “without ‘sacrifice of that womanly dignity and modesty we all admire.’”[8] In this way, the expanding role of white women in public life rested directly on those same women reinforcing the ideology of whiteness. And the result of reinforcement is, of course, the further normalization of white supremacy.

[1] Kathleen Blee, Women of the KKK: Racism and Gender in the 1920s, (Berkeley: University of California, 1991).

[2] Julian B. Carter, The Heart of Whiteness: Normal Sexuality and Race in America, 1880-1940, (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2007). Please note that all page numbers for Carter citations will be in reference to the printed copy of a .pdf file of this text.

[3] Allan Berube, The Making and Unmaking of Whiteness, Brigit Brander Rasmussen, Eric Klinenberg, Irene J. Nexica, and Matt Wray, eds., (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001).

[4] Blee, Women of the KKK, 11.

[5] Blee, Women of the KKK.

[6] Blee, Women of the KKK, 24.

[7] Blee, Women of the KKK, 24.

[8] Blee, Women of the KKK, 30.