- Editorial Note:Reproduction, Sexuality, and Religion
With this issue, we continue to benefit from, build on, and recognize the work of our predecessors. In particular, we are very pleased to announce the first Journal of Women's History biannual prize to honor the best article published between 2009 and 2010 under Antoinette Burton and Jean Allman's editorship. The selection committee comprised three editorial board members—Professors Judith Byfield, Ann Allen and Judy Wu—who chose Susanne M. Klausen as the first award recipient for "'Reclaiming the White Daughter's Purity': Afrikaner Nationalism, Racialized Sexuality, and the 1975 Abortion and Sterilization Act in Apartheid South Africa" (JWH, vol. 22, no. 3). The committee also awarded honorable mentions to Jean Allman for "The Disappearing of Hannah Kudjoe: Nationalism, Feminism, and the Tyrannies of History" (JWH, vol. 21, no. 3) and Gina Greene for "The 'Cradle of Glass': Incubators for Infants in Late Nineteenth-Century France" (JWH, vol. 22, no. 4).
The selection committee identified Klausen's article as a model of the scholarship the prize is designed to recognize. It exemplifies "the rich rewards from locating national narratives in a global landscape," according to the selection committee. It examines "understudied efforts by the apartheid state to regulate white female sexuality" and "demonstrates the multiple ways in which the trope of the sexually virtuous white woman was central to Afrikaner ideology." Along the way, it "illuminates the multiple pathways through which the global circulation of ideas about reproductive rights, sexuality, and feminism contributed to reproductive politics in South Africa." In reaching its decision, the committee spoke to the quality of the articles it considered and the "strength and vision of the editorial team." It is indeed to this same editorial team that we owe the articles and book reviews offered here.
This issue brings together a disparate collection of work that considers religion, sexuality, and motherhood in a wide array of cultural and national contexts. In this note we begin to bring these pieces into conversation by tracing patterns among them, identifying differences between them, and examining the unique contributions each makes to our understanding of how women's history has been shaped by assumptions about and manipulations of maternity, divinity, and carnality.
At first blush, our two lead articles, Amy Randall's "'Abortion Will Deprive You of Happiness!': Soviet Reproductive Politics in the Post-Stalin [End Page 7] Era," and Sasha Turner's "Home-Grown Slaves: Women, Reproduction, and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, Jamaica 1788-1807," might seem to have little in common. Both demonstrate the centrality of reproduction to systems of rule, however distinct—with the one in post-Stalinist Russia and the other in Jamaica's slave system. They show that, while pronatalism may have provided some benefits for women, its utilitarian, indeed draconian, approach to the female body inevitably compromised women's abilities to control their own bodies.
Soviet officials justified their decision to legalize abortion in 1955, Randall explains, as a measure to advance women's welfare. Indeed, by the end of nineteen years of criminalization, four thousand Soviet women were dying from illegal abortions every year. But it was not only concern for women, per se, but also alarm over the postwar demographic crisis that triggered a change in policy. That the new abortion policy was aimed less at empowering women than at pressuring them to reproduce can be gleaned from the simultaneous legalization of abortion and the state-sponsored campaign against it. Randall explains that this two-pronged approach accorded with broader transformations in the "technologies of power" that were responsible for spreading, in the years following Joseph Stalin's death, "a more diffuse system of coercive techniques for disciplining" the behavior of Soviet citizens. Thus, rather than arresting, prosecuting, and imprisoning violators, the post-Stalin Soviet state employed propaganda to discourage abortion by casting it as unpatriotic, unnatural, and likely to cause marital discord. Especially in the absence of adequate contraception, this Soviet disinformation campaign encouraged pregnancy and childbirth while it propagated a new, domesticated form of Soviet masculinity.
As Turner shows, Jamaican slaveowners in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries did not even pretend...