"America Represented by a Woman" – Negotiating Feminine and National Identity in Post-Revolutionary America
This is an electronic version of an article published in Navarre Cleary, Michelle. "'America Represented by a Woman' – Negotiating Feminine and National Identity in Post-Revolutionary America." Women’s Studies 28 (1998): 59-78 . Women's Studies is available online at: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00497878.1998.9979244.
Post-Revolutionary feminism peaked in the early 1790s when even thinkers as radical as Mary Wollstonecraft found a popular audience for their critiques of women's dependence upon and subordination to men. As the decade advanced, however, a backlash developed that characterized the feminine as a dangerous threat to the political order, denied women's authority outside the domestic sphere, and reasserted their dependence upon men. Through readings of two political cartoons by Paul Revere, a popular 1776 sermon by Samuel Sherwood, and Judith Sargent Murray’s “Story of Margaretta,” I argue that this backlash resulted, in part, from the frequent linking of feminine to national identity in American culture. These works by Revere, Sherwood, and Murray demonstrate how both revolutionaries, who were attempting to found the nation, and women's advocates, who were attempting to enhance the role of women in it, yoked the identity of the nation to that of women and imagined political stability as domestic order. Hence, fears of national instability in the late 1790s spurred a desire to limit women's roles.