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Putting Women in Their Place

Thomas Whitley

In reading the collection of essays by Joan Wallach Scott called Gender and the Politics of History, I came across this quote that must be quoted at length:

The connection between authoritarian regimes and the control of women has been noted but not thoroughly studied. Whether at a crucial moment for Jacobian hegemony in the French Revolution, at the point of Stalin's bid for controlling authority, the implementation of Nazi policy in Germany, or with the triumph in Iran of the Ayatollah Khomeini, emergent rulers have legitimized domination, strength, central authority, and ruling power as masculine (enemies, outsiders, subversives, weakness as feminine) and made that code literal in laws (forbidding women's political participation, outlawing abortion, prohibiting wage-earning by mothers, imposing female dress codes) that put women in their place. These actions and their timing make little sense in themselves; in most instances, the state had nothing immediate or material to gain from the control of women. The actions can only be made sense of as part of an analysis of the construction and consolidation of power. An assertion of control or strength was given form as a policy about women.

Revealing that it was written in 1986 by its reference to the Ayatollah Khomeini, this passage is quite striking in what it potentially has to say about contemporary America, specifically with regards to the laws and policies that have been made official in this country (and those that others are fighting for) that attempt to make normative statements about gender and sexuality. I'll leave it to you to decide just how strong a connection should be made between contemporary America's attempts to control women and the authoritarian regimes she offers as examples.