(Un)Making Manhood: Antebellum Narratives of Black Masculine Construction as Traces of Progressive Gender Formations
Sanders, Jorden Elizabeth
Since the Feminist and Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s, scholars and activists have worked to deconstruct essentialist notions of race and gender, but only recently has scholarship delved into the frameworks that construct masculinity. For black feminist thinkers, it was essential to acknowledge the intersectionality of oppression, to consider femininity, masculinity, and race in concert with each other. Hooks calls this “interbeing,” and Spillers acknowledges “pansexual potential,” and for Alice Walker it’s “womanism.” No matter the term, each of these approaches seeks to overturn patriarchal notions of manhood in order to create a future manhood that promotes gender equality by highlighting slavery’s influence on the possibilities in black manhood. “(Un)Making Manhood” builds on that scholarship by continuing to consider black masculinity in terms of its ability to wed feminine and masculine characteristics in a single notion of manhood, but it also deviates in its call to search for a usable past in the nineteenth century. It asks the reader to carefully search the speeches and narratives of nineteenth century figures for nascent vestiges of gender progressivism while acknowledging the problematic realities of such a turn.
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