- Editors' Note
With this issue we begin to realize some of the intellectual aspirations we brought to the table when we first imagined being editors of the Journal of Women's History almost three years ago. We are delighted to open the first issue of volume 18 with Afsaneh Najmabadi's bracing essay on the purchase of gender and sexuality as categories of historical analysis "beyond the Americas." Here Najmabadi poses challenging questions about the long life of gender—and gendered—binaries in post–Joan Scott historiography, asking "how sex became sex" and why even work that deals with subjects outside the west and before the modern carries such a powerful, yet unrecognized, "nineteenth-century gender burden." She does so through a highly personalized yet eminently usable account of her own struggle with these issues as she wrote her recent monograph, Women Without Mustaches and Men Without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (2005), which is about changing norms of beauty and their relationship to gender identity in modern Iran. Rarely, we think, will you find such a frank and engaging analysis of the stakes of doing critically engaged feminist history.
Najmabadi's piece began its life as a talk at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians in June 2005, and we're delighted to be able to make it available here. In our next issue we plan to highlight another plenary talk from the Berks, Tani Barlow's "History and the Border," so watch this space! In the meantime we are pleased to introduce two articles that examine the role of women and of images of women in wartime contexts. The first, by Barbara Weinstein, traces the trope of the Mulher Paulista, a discursive figure at the heart of accounts of regional struggle in 1931 São Paolo, Brazil. As Weinstein skillfully illustrates, recurrent talk about this iconic figure, which began in the context of a constitutional debate and continued through revolution and several regime changes, took on much larger symbolic political meanings that exercised political and cultural power well beyond its initial mobilization. Weinstein's analysis attempts to answer the deceptively simple question of how we account for the absence of women in discussions of political upheaval—and in doing so, she unearths a foundational story of how a collective image became the carrier of gendered meanings about women's relationship to rights and citizenship in modern Brazil. Gregor Kranjc takes up a similar problem in his article on the ideological work of anti-communist propaganda about Slovene women in the context of World War II. As in the Brazilian case, women become the battleground on which the war over local and regional political outcomes was waged. And as is [End Page 7] a common enough story in the context of total war, not simply women's images but their bodies and their very lives became pawns in the contest between anti-communist and partisan forces. Taken together, Weinstein's and Kranjc's pieces shed light not just on how and why women served as constitutive subjects of wartime debate, but how gender and especially ideas about women's respectability shaped the cultural identities of political movements in two very different twentieth-century locations and in two equally different moments of crisis.
The second pair of articles in this issue deals with women "out of place." Norman Smith's examination of Dan Di, a Chinese writer of Korean parentage who lived much of her life in Japanese-occupied Manchuko, documents the biography and work of this courageous critic of an imperial regime—a regime that censored and imprisoned her for her unstinting view of occupation conditions, especially for women. Dan Di's fascinating transnational biography is captured for the first time here, offering a powerful narrative of the capacity of literature to help us historicize some of the most intimate workings of imperial power. Bonnie Frederick's essay on the reception of Harriet Beecher Stowe in Argentina continues this work of historicizing the literary. She argues that Stowe's image as a model of maternalism—more so even than the content of Uncle Tom's Cabin—was read in nineteenth-century...