- Gender, Power, Identity, and History in Early New England
In her 1986 article, "Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis" (American Historical Review 91/5:1053–75), Joan W. Scott urged scholars to examine gender as a primary division of power and category of analysis. Scott saw incredible untapped potential to gain deeper understanding of topics that scholars had not related to women or gender issues. She hoped such analysis would "yield a history that will provide new perspectives on . . . how . . . political rule is imposed or what the impact of war on society is [and] redefine the old questions in new terms (introducing considerations of family and sexuality, for example, in the study of economics or war)" (1075). Three scholars, two English professors and one historian, quite adeptly use these concepts of power division and gender as a category of analysis in compelling and insightful ways in their works on New England, by focusing on political power, war, imperial competition, and religious authority. Significantly, all three scholars employ captivity narratives to make different, albeit intriguing, arguments about how Puritan men controlled, utilized, edited, or even wrote female captivity narratives to further a male agenda of conquest, power, and/or authority.
In Rhetorical Drag: Gender Impersonation, Captivity, and the Writing of History, Lorrayne Carroll uses a wonderfully effective and sexy trope, "rhetorical drag," to argue that men edited, intervened, and even sometimes composed female captivity narratives, impersonating the presumed woman in order to assert their cultural authority and version of history. According to Carroll "the act of imposture begins with the male writer assuming the female captive's voice" (1). In labeling male authorship "rhetorical drag," Carroll wants her reader to consider ways to "use queer theory as well as archival research and feminist inquiry to think about the practices of authorial impersonation and its cultural effects" (2). She points out that these male editors chose to write "as a woman rather than about a woman" (188). Men had to deploy a style of a woman in order to make the captivity narratives have an authentic or believable voice, yet they did so to offer their own male interpretation of history. Carroll extrapolates: "Rhetorical drag provided for these men a powerful doubled position of subject and object, the vantage from which to inhabit gender as writing male and speaking female" (188).
In her analysis, Carroll examines the captivity narratives of Puritans Hannah Swarton and Hannah Duston, Quaker Elizabeth Hanson, and the lateeighteenth century "sentimentalized" stories of Susannah Johnson and Jemima Howe. In chapter 1 Carroll argues intriguingly that Hannah Swarton's narrative was actually the work of Cotton Mather, whose father Increase edited the famous Mary Rowlandson narrative. Scholars who have studied the Mathers will enjoy contemplating the image provoked by the subtitle, "Mather in Drag." She also convinces her readers that this captivity narrative reinforces Mather's theories regarding the roles of women. Throughout her study, Carroll argues persuasively that men used these narratives for their own agendas. What is more elusive about her "drag" theory is that Mather (and the other men who wrote or edited captivity narratives), in consciously writing in female first person, was in some degree [End Page 171] taking on a feminine identity. Is there some indication that in trying to capture the female voice men related to women in more empathetic ways? Puritanism was itself a feminized religion, and ministers used a highly feminized language for their own writing and sermons. Would it have been a great leap for Cotton Mather to assume the "I" voice and write about obedience and passivity? The feminine is the Puritan normative; thus Mather was speaking and writing in a voice...