Comments on: Through a two-way looking glass, you see your Alice: is feminist biography necessarily a modernist pursuit? http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/ History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sat, 20 Sep 2014 07:56:15 +0000 hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 By: Chaise http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1042721 Fri, 22 Jun 2012 16:53:57 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1042721 Indyanna -

I concur. There will always be some group of people marginalized or oppressed in every society. This is the beauty of the ERA. In theory, Alice Paul knew that despite women believing that the passing of the 19th Amendment meant full equality, the fight was far from over. Always (yes, I’m using absolute terminology) there shall be a struggle in some capacity to secure freedom (in whatever form that may be)thus, there will advocation and opposition. Paul’s ERA keeps people engaged in the idea of freedom to live with dignity. I use freedom vs democracy in this sense due to how democracy has different meanings in the personal and political worlds. That is, political democracy is a method by which politicians get elected. Freedom of mobility, speech, etc., is an entirely different concept. The point is, the ERA is still alive and well (voted on in Feb. 2012 with Virginia as the hold-out). The amount of legislation produced from this single document is mind-boggling. Will all groups benefit? Probably not. Can they try? Absolutely. And they do so in the name of Alice Paul’s ERA (thanks to Lucretia Mott ;)

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By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1041912 Thu, 21 Jun 2012 17:34:11 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1041912 Is it true that the ERA (the version that passed Congress in the 1970s) could still be ratified by the vote of one more previously-unratifying state? I was on the Washington D.C. march for it on July 9, 1978–I’m looking at the button not three feet from my nose now. And I know that Congress subsequently extended some sort of a “deadline” for ratification, but that that deadline too passed, I think in 1981. I don’t pretend to know the constitutional details of ratification processes, but if that could still be done, then ten million people or so moving to, say, Wyoming, for a year or two, would make a nice slam-dunk denoument for the Occupy movement.

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By: Chaise http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1041547 Thu, 21 Jun 2012 07:25:52 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1041547 Just read extensive book on changing methodology in theorizing human rights as universal. Stumbling upon this overture of Alice Paul’s orchestra, I’d say it’s timely. If we were to ask if human rights are universal, would all answers be yes? Maybe no? Or would some accept rights as being immanent (local) and epistemologically destablizing (breaking status quo)? Perhaps ‘dynamic’ would serve to characterize universal human rights where universality is non-existent. What does any of this have to do with Ms. Ware’s dilemma in writing a biography on Alice? Perhaps becoming wedded to a specific methodology limits one’s insight into the subject at hand. Obviously, the dense amount of information Ware presented in her article is indeed a research project that would require rigorous resolve for any historian/biographer. But history books are difficult to sell; or so Ware may indicate. Why not attune to the dynamics of Paul’s life? Why not examine the chivalry in the women’s movement (women vs women)? Therein lies a thesis that would thwart any biographer of feminism into instant fame. Especially considering one of Paul’s most staunch opponents, Eleanor Roosevelt. Indeed, the first lady who advocated for civil rights (social justice platform) and supported labor legislation (Section 213 of the Economy Act of 1932) that profoundly discriminated against women, class, and race. Yes, Eleanor relentlessly fought against Paul’s ERA, but in 1948, we all see Eleanor as the drafter of the Universal Delaration of Human Rights. So the story of Alice Paul goes; there is no finish line! I could speak on Paul’s contributions and setbacks for hours on end. To save space and time let’s break it all down with one thought; action speaks louder than words. Amazing how simplistic that thought is. Think about it. Alice and the NWP (yes, they are one) was no more than a mirror held up to the public. When people looked at this mirror (NWP), they eventally saw the image of President Wilson and the U.S. Gov’t. Alice/NWP broke the taboo and revealed the illusion of democracy during the era. And how has the meaning of democracy changed from a century ago? Think about it. What is an individual’s legacy while still living? That is, if one considers the thousands of legislative documents written on or about the ERA, then Alice (in my opinion) did accomplish everything she set out to do. At the core of her philosophy was 1) a commitment “to work for women by women”, and 2) dignifying the female sex (Ware, 2012). The most simplified draft of any legal document is the ERA; Alice fought to keep the original language. This was, like everything else she did, no accident. The ERA asks only that men share power with women. Alice understood how gov’ts work and knew the history of patriarchy. To change the system so that one half the human race (whoops, did I just classify women as ‘race’?) would always be included was the goal. For anyone to state that Paul’s work virtually ended in 1923, well, they have much to learn. The ERA has kept women in the fight for equality as imperfect as the universiality of equality may be. WOMEN ARE STILL BATTLING for themselves, for men, for the disabled, for racial & immigration rights, and on and on; ALL in the name of the ERA that needs one more state for ratification. So you see, like Amelia Fry, we have become lobbyists for Alice without even knowing it. One more thing…the simplicity of the ERA is also the most complex challenge the world entire will ever face…long after you and I are gone. Just think about it

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1035882 Thu, 14 Jun 2012 02:21:41 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1035882 Thanks for your comment, Jean. I’ve long wondered if it was really useful any more to wrestle over definitions of what constitutes a feminist biography. I think any biography of a woman that takes its subject seriously and which doesn’t apply a double standard in analyzing the life will probably qualify.

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By: Jean Fagan Yellin http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1035690 Wed, 13 Jun 2012 18:07:24 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1035690 Perhaps if we don’t have a exclusionary definition of “feminist biography,” and if we don’t have an exclusionary definition of “feminist methodology,” it will be possible to write about many women whose lives seem useful (to feminists and others). People need to write what they need to write–and not to write what they don’t.
Ladyanna–yes, there certainly seems to be a subtext concerning the politics of the Cold War in Rifkind’s review. I wonder how the Kessler-Harris biography reads? I can’t tell from this review.

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By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1033538 Sun, 10 Jun 2012 20:49:43 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1033538 There’s an interesting review by Donna Rifkind in the Sunday _NYT_ book review today of Alice Kessler-Harris’s biography of Lillian Hellman. Not much about feminist approaches to biography, or biographical methodology, or certainly about interior lives, but there seems to be a sort of subtext based in ongoing controversies about the 20th Century and the politics of the Cold War, and about how historians tend to (in the reviewer’s view) effect the intersection of lives with times. I don’t know much about Rifkind as a writer. A quick google search seems to suggest that she’s mainly a reviewer of books.

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By: Indyanna http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1032211 Sat, 09 Jun 2012 02:54:41 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1032211 Biography has been getting some systematic attention recently in scholarly circles. The Huntington Library and University of Southern California last week co-sponsored a conference organized by Annette Gordon-Reed on “Early American Biographies.” And at the conference of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic in Baltimore next month there will be a panel titled “Revisiting Female Biography: A New Roundtable.” Maybe some of these issues will see daylight there. For me, Natalie Z. Davis’s triptych, _Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth Century Lives_ still offers a pretty good model of how to scrape at least some semblance of “interior” space from sources that are not really exemplars of self-revelatory expression. A lot of Paula Backscheider’s work has been about looking at biographical practice from a literary perspective. I think you’re right on the “in-law” part, but I can’t remember the details either.

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By: Tigs http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1032131 Sat, 09 Jun 2012 00:29:41 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1032131 I wonder if a relevant distinction to make here is the difference between feminist methodologies and feminist scholarship.

I would say that a relatively straightforward biography of Paul would likely constitute feminist scholarship in that it is adding important feminist knowledge to the world, but that may or may not use a feminist methodology.

I think my nit to pick with Ware is that she seems to be forwarding a relatively narrow view of feminist methodology. What I see Ware as saying, in a sense, is that in the materials available, the scholar has little direct access to anything beyond Paul as a Cartesian subject. And indeed, much of feminist methodology is focused on undermining the validity of the Cartesian subject–but I don’t think that’s a necessary quality.

I’m not a historian, but if I were writing about Paul (based exclusively on Ware’s article), I would probably be interested in writing about the insistence on a carefully crafted public identity as part of her political practice— I’d be interested in situating this particular act (as a political act), within her politics more broadly. While a historian would do this differently than I would, it doesn’t seem unreasonable that something like this could be a historical project. I would also argue that this would be grounded in feminist methodologies because I would be interested in working materially from the subject’s actions as political practice.

So, yeah, not Ware’s project, but certainly space for a feminist methodology differently construed.

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By: Historiann http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1031977 Fri, 08 Jun 2012 18:54:02 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1031977 Thanks for your perspective, Janice. I figured that you’d also be a little perplexed by the expectation that your sources would “talk back” to you or reveal their inner lives.

(Expert question: didn’t mother-in-law also mean stepmother, or vice versa, in EME and in early Anglo-America? I’ve seen this confused usage, and I figured it out but now I can’t remember which was used to refer to which category. Can you help? There sure were a lot of stepmothers in your period.)

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By: Janice http://www.historiann.com/2012/06/06/through-a-two-way-looking-glass-you-see-your-alice-is-feminist-biography-necessarily-a-modernist-pursuit/comment-page-1/#comment-1031855 Fri, 08 Jun 2012 15:25:25 +0000 http://www.historiann.com/?p=18931#comment-1031855 I’m reading her article now (and will pass on the link to a colleague who works in the fields of gender history and biography). I find it refreshing to see someone write about the issue of research as decisions and “fit”. Not every project works for every person and Ware’s made the case for why this project, despite some appeals, wasn’t a good fit for her.

She doesn’t NEED to write this book. She doesn’t see a way for her to write this book. Her one failure in my book is that she can’t imagine someone else taking up the task of an Alice Paul biography and we all know how difficult it is to admit that someone else will do a better job of something that we would’ve liked to have tackled.

My research to-do list includes tackling the lives of some sixteenth, seventeenth and early eighteenth century women who were stepmothers. I want to see how that role affected their own lives and those of people around them. I don’t expect to get too much reflective “interiority” given the sources available. Coming in with that first and foremost will make any insights I manage to glean all the more valuable. If I came to the project expecting to see these women lay out exhaustive commentary on their lives and experiences, I’d surely be discouraged. You can’t demand resources that don’t exist but you can think how to use well what does: that’s what I remind my students when they start sketching out their own research.

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