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Savages, Women, and Children Savages, women, and children represented the three groups most easily swayed by the mob, according to the vocabulary used by social scientists. Beginning with the theories of Darwin and Spencer, people in these categories were traditionally considered as having the characteristics of irrational thinking and emotionalism. “The more advanced mental functions, imagination and reason, were presumed to be characteristic of the more highly evolved brains of civilized man,” the historian Louise Newman writes.1 The crowd, like the mob, women, and savages, had no legitimacy as a responsible collective subject because of its mutability and irrationality .2 Degenerating to the female, the crowd acquiesced to its leader: “He is my master.”3 “Suggestion” and “mental contagion,” words continually used to de- fine the feminine nature of the mob, came from Le Bon’s analyses of crowd behavior and would be used again by social psychologists and anthropologists in the 1930s to define the rapport that European dictators established with crowds. Between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries such theories about the suggestibility of women represented an obstacle not only to women’s demand for suffrage but also to their obtaining an education equal to men’s.4 According to two noted educators , Edward H. Clarke and Stanley Hall (the organizer of Freud’s visit to Clark University in 1909), allowing women access to higher education was inadvisable, not only because of their lack of aptitude but because of the harm it caused them by draining them of the energy necessary for reproduction. “Why should we ruin a good mother by making her a simple student like so many others?” asked Clarke.5 The risk of female sterility, on the other hand, evoked the end-of-century phantom of the feared “race suicide.” Many years before writing Psychologie des foules, Le Bon expressed himself on this subject unequivocally: “All the psychologists who study CHAPTER 3 The Mob Stereotype the mob stereotype 69 women’s intelligence, as well as novelists and poets, assume women to be at the lowest level of human evolution, more similar to children and savages than to the civilized adult male.”6 Resemblances between mobs and women became a popular cliché. Edward A. Ross proposed the hysteria phenomenon—a well-known Freudian concept—as proof that women were far more suggestible than men. In his description of an all-female crowd on a temperance crusade, Ross combined his admiration for the women’s determination with a negative opinion of their persistence: “The ladies, led by the wife of a distinguished general, sallied forth to the drug stores, hotels and saloons. The movement spread into the adjacent towns, the women visiting saloons , singing, praying. . . . The ladies suffered severe privations, were oftentimes kept standing in the cold and rain, and were sometimes the subjects of severe remarks and direct persecution. The churches were crowded day and night.” Contrary to expectations, the crusade ended as abruptly as it had begun. The reason for this unexpected departure from the scene could be attributed, according to the social scientist, to the movement’s being “too much at variance with feminine nature to last, its sudden wide vogue can be explained by mental contagion.”7 This same notion of women’s mob susceptibility was the basis for male resistance to women’s demands for suffrage and more power in society. Because women were constitutionally deprived of the rational capacity necessary to comply with the rights of citizenship, as their opponents maintained, a rational (male) person could not argue with women guided by their instincts. Not only women but also children had a specific place in the evolutionary theories. According to the phylogenetic theory proposed by the German zoologist Ernst Haeckel, women and children became implicated in the various phases of species development in a signi ficant way.8 If during his lifetime a man went through all the phases of human evolution, his childhood represented the most archaic, ancestral phase. In the age of imperialism anthropologists classified the general order of all races; those so-called inferior ones were placed on a scale that passed from the primitive age to the stage of barbarism to finally arrive at the most evolved Western civilizations. White male children were the measure of comparison. In other words, the adults of inferior groups were compared to the children of superior groups. The best-known U.S. psychologist of the period, G. Stanley Hall, author of the famous Adolescence , summarized the issue, declaring...


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