restricted access Preface

From: New Men

NYU Press colophon
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

|  ix Preface Mary Beth Norton According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term masculinity was coined in 1748. As the insightful essays in this volume show, however, long before that men in North America were thinking about and living out the traits represented by the word: “the assemblage of qualities regarded as characteristic of men; maleness, manliness.” From Captain John Smith in early Jamestown to John Adams in late eighteenth-century Massachusetts, from soldiers and Native warriors who fought early America’s many wars to men who recorded their dreams (and those of others) quietly in their diaries , from Jamaica to New England, colonial men worried about defining and meeting standards of masculinity—regardless of whether they had a word for that characteristic. Exhibiting manly qualities in early America was a complicated task, as all the men discussed in this book knew. Should one show self-restraint or aggression? Independence or cooperation? Deference or superiority? The answers to those questions depended on circumstances: what behavior worked for a man in one instance would be inappropriate in another. And a man had to recognize which was which. Failure to do so could result in charges by one’s peers that he was somehow less than a man—or worse. Under certain conditions, a perceived lack of manliness could even lead to death. In a sense, the range of behavioral choices confronting early American men was nothing new: Englishmen and enslaved Africans who sailed to the colonies did not suddenly acquire the attributes and anxieties of manhood somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.1 Native Americans did not learn how to be manly from their contacts with the invaders; their societies had long since developed cultural definitions of what traits men should display and which ones they should eschew if they wished to have the esteem of their peers. Rather, what was “new” about the “new men” of North America were the complex patterns in which such groups interacted with one another. Native standards of manhood conflicted with English standards: x  |  Mary Beth Norton what, a white colonist might think, could possibly be manly about torturing a captive to death? What could be manly about fighting battles by “skulking ” behind trees in ambushes? Conversely, a Native man could think, how could a “real man” do the agricultural work commonly assigned to women? Or how could a master both differentiate himself sharply from his bondsmen and simultaneously recognize their prerogatives as husbands to give them preference over women for skilled and managerial plantation jobs? How could an enslaved man prove his masculine worth when he had neither property nor independence in a larger colonial society that placed great emphasis on both? One striking aspect of these essays, in short, is the complexity of the cultural relationships they disclose and the intricacy of the interweaving of different sets of masculine values in the North American context. American feminist scholars have for years addressed the connections of gender, race, and status. This book shows that utilizing the same parameters to study men best illuminates American masculinity. And it perhaps suggests that there is something after all to the old idea of American exceptionalism. What made the “new world” novel was not the fact of its “discovery” by Europeans , but rather the interplay of cultural forces that brought new pressures and new opportunities to its many male and female residents. After decades of enlightening feminist scholarship on women, it is time to have similarly enlightening feminist scholarship focusing on men. Note 1. On early modern English masculinity, see the following useful review essays: Alexandra Shepard, “From Anxious Patriarchs to Refined Gentlemen? Manhood in Britain, Circa 1500–1700,” Journal of British Studies 44 (2005): 281–95; and Karen Harvey, “The History of Masculinity, Circa 1650–1800,” ibid., 296–311. ...


pdf