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Suspect Citizens

Women, Virtue, and Vice in Backlash Politics

Jocelyn Boryczka

Publication Year: 2012

What drives the cycle of backlashes against women’s ongoing struggle for equality, freedom, and inclusion in American politics? In her innovative and provocative book, Suspect Citizens, Jocelyn Boryczka presents a feminist conceptual history that shows how American politics have largely defined women in terms of their reproductive and socializing functions. This framework not only denies women full citizenship, but also devalues the active political engagement of all citizens who place each other and their government under suspicion.

Developing the gendered dynamics of virtue and vice, Boryczka exposes the paradox of how women are perceived as both virtuous moral guardians and vice-ridden suspect citizens capable of jeopardizing the entire nation’s exceptional future. She uses wide-ranging examples from the Puritans and contemporary debates over sex education to S&M lesbian feminists and the ethics of care to show how to move beyond virtue and vice to a democratic feminist ethics.

Suspect Citizens advances a politics of collective responsibility and belonging.

Published by: Temple University Press


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p. c-c

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

Projects such as this one result from the support and engagement of so many that acknowledging them all is a nearly impossible task. Here I recognize some of the people and institutions that factored significantly in the process of bringing this project to completion....

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Introduction: Moral Guardians but Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue, and Vice in the Western Political Imaginary

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pp. 1-25

Five thousand women formed the Jeannette Rankin Brigade Protest on January 15, 1968, when they descended on Washington, D.C., to petition Congress to end the Vietnam War. Protest organizers encouraged participants to use as leverage their traditional roles as mothers and wives to gain a sympathetic hearing from legislators. The New...

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1 | Conceptual Locations: Where Virtue, Vice,and Citizenship Intersect

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pp. 26-43

Virtue, vice, and citizenship belong to the tradition of Western political theory that, while beyond the scope of this study in its entirety, provides the background necessary for exploring how these concepts operate in the American political script. Key conceptual locations in ancient and medieval Western political theory and in the...

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2 | The Religious Roots of Moral Guardianship: American Women as the Daughters of Eve and Zion

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pp. 44-64

Standing aboard the Arbella as it sailed to Salem in 1629, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony John Winthrop made a proclamation to his fledgling Puritan community that made an indelible impact on the American political script. “We must Consider that we shall be as a City upon a Hill,” he stated. “[T]he Eyes of all people...

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3 | “Back to Virtue” Backlash Politics: Privileging Irresponsibility

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pp. 65-87

Women’s moral character, whether at the turn of the nineteenth or twenty-first century, represents a site of struggle in “family values” debates, a feature of “back to virtue” backlash politics. Following the American Revolution, women’s education moved into the national spotlight at the beginning of the nineteenth...

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4 | Suspect Citizenship: From Lowell Mill Girls to Lesbian Feminists and Sadomasochism

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pp. 88-114

Battles over sex roles, sexual practices, and sexuality become “wars” at turning points in U.S. political history when women, knowingly or not, stand in opposition to moral guardianship. The Lowell mill girls—the first nearly all-female labor force in the United States between 1826 and 1850—challenged mid-nineteenth-century conceptions...

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5 | “Ozzie and Harriet” Morality: Resetting Liberal Democracy’s Moral Compass

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pp. 115-138

Disorder and chaos were spiraling Jacksonian America into a whirlwind of change when Alexis de Tocqueville and Gustave de Beaumont stepped onto U.S. shores in 1831. Universal white manhood suffrage, immigration, urbanization, and early industrialization were driving economic and political transitions that also transformed the...

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6 | The Legacy of Virtue and Vice: Mary Wollstonecraft and Contemporary Feminist Care Ethics

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pp. 139-160

Changes in the family, whether in the eighteenth or twenty-first century, generate highly charged debates over women’s role as moral guardians assigned to protect the nation’s future, and they arouse societal suspicions about women’s citizenship that fuel backlash politics. Mary Wollstonecraft, in...

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Conclusion: Beyond Virtue and Vice: Toward a Democratic Feminist Ethics

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pp. 161-174

The gendered moral logic of the virtue-vice dualism plays out on the stage of American politics through the tension within women’s political identity as moral guardians but suspect citizens. Assigning women the double burden of moral responsibility for self, family, and the nation equates any real or perceived failure to fulfill their civic...


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pp. 175-184


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pp. 185-194


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pp. 195-201

E-ISBN-13: 9781439908952
Print-ISBN-13: 9781439908945

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012