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Mysteries of Sex

Tracing Women and Men through American History

Mary P. Ryan

Publication Year: 2006

In a sweeping synthesis of American history, Mary Ryan demonstrates how the meaning of male and female has evolved, changed, and varied over a span of 500 years and across major social and ethnic boundaries. She traces how, at select moments of history, perceptions of sex difference were translated into complex and mutable patterns for differentiating women and men. How those distinctions were drawn and redrawn affected the course of American history more generally. Ryan's bold analysis raises the possibility that perhaps, if understood in their variety and mutability, the differences of sex might lose the sting of inequality.

Published by: The University of North Carolina Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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Contents and Illustrations

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pp. 1-17

It is the winter of 2005, a harrowing time in the history of the United States. The front pages are plastered with images of the continuing brutality and bloodshed of the war in Iraq. The catastrophic hurricanes that pounded the coastline along the Gulf of Mexico have laid waste to a region, gutted a great...


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Chapter 1. Where Have the Corn Mothers Gone?: Americans Encounter the Europeans

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pp. 21-60

In 1540 a party of Spaniards led by Hernando De Soto came upon a band of Indians in a place that is now called South Carolina. The European leader called for an audience with his local counterpart and set out ‘‘rest seats’’ for the headmen of the two peoples. The natives obliged, and soon a canopied...

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Chapter 2. Who Baked That Apple Pie and When?: How Domesticity Conquered American Culture

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pp. 61-102

By the middle of the nineteenth century the icon of the clan mother had been replaced by another American idol. A family gathered around a table laden with home cooking became the ideal representation of kinship and was granted a national holiday of it own,Thanksgiving.The most widely read...

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Chapter 3. How Did Race Get Colored?: Gender and Sexuality in the American South

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pp. 103-143

Looking out to the far corners of the globe in 1758, Carl Linnaeus confidently sorted the world’s population into four groups. The inhabitants of Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas conformed to a neat natural order, analogous to the four cardinal points of the compass, the four humors, and...


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Chapter 4. What Is the Sex of Citizenship?: Engendering the American Political Tradition from the Revolution to the New Deal

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pp. 147-198

On July 4, 1844, the female members of the Antislavery Society of Andover, Massachusetts, presented a banner to the men of the society, who raised it aloft and paraded through the streets of the town. On one side of this banner the abolitionist seamstresses had stitched the image of a male slave, along...


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Chapter 5. How Do You Get from Home to Work to Equity?: 1900–1960

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pp. 201-244

The New York Times for February 17, 2001, printed a lengthy obituary for Rose Rosenfeld Freedman, age 107. Her death was newsworthy for several reasons, chief among them the fact that she was the last survivor of the Triangle fire of 1911. Seared in the memory of the labor movement, that fire took...

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Chapter 6. Where Does Sex Divide?: Feminism, Sexuality, and the Structures of Gender since 1960

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pp. 245-290

In 1994 the American Psychiatric Association added a new malady to its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Code number 302.85 alerted medical practitioners to something called ‘‘gender identity disorder,’’ defined as ‘‘a strong and persistent cross-gender identification...

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Chapter 7. Where in the World Is the Border between Male and Female?: Immigration and Generation in the Twentieth Century

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pp. 291-324

On Sunday afternoons a group of Aztec dancers regularly perform in the Plaza of Los Angeles, a modest open space set beside a freeway and not far from the skyscrapers of downtown and the brashly postmodern Disney Concert Hall. The brawny dancers and drummers are led by a graceful, middle-aged...


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pp. 325-359


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pp. 361-408

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pp. 409-410

Every sentence of this book is a debt to other historians. With each paragraph come my thanks and my apologies for any misunderstandings and misuses I have made of the research and writing of my colleagues. My debt to those with whom I have worked side by side for some thirty years in the...


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pp. 411-432

E-ISBN-13: 9781469606057
E-ISBN-10: 1469606054
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807830628
Print-ISBN-10: 0807830623

Page Count: 448
Illustrations: 2 line drawings, 1 map
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 232568517
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mysteries of Sex

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Subject Headings

  • Sex role -- United States -- History.
  • Women -- United States -- History.
  • Men -- United States -- History.
  • Feminism -- United States -- History.
  • United States -- History.
  • United States -- Social conditions.
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