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Canadian Review of American Studies 1992Special Issue, Part II Introduction to Part II Jean V. Matthews 167 The essays in Part II of Reinterpreting the American Experience: Women, Gender, and American Studies further exemplifysome of the themes that emerged in Part I. The "different voice" of women, for example, appears strongly in Catherine Lundie's discussion of ghost stories by American female writers, as does an emphasis on empathy as a mode of knowledge. The female protagonists in these stories are seldom really terrified by the ghosts they encounter; they tend, rather, to empathize with them, and the anguish they feel comes from this sympathetic identification.Their empathy, in turn, is rooted in the common female experience of being present but never really heard. They can understand how it feels to be ghosts among the living. Mina Carson, in her essayon aspects of psychiatry in the 1950s,and, in particular, the influential familytherapy movement, demonstrates how intricately gender is intertwined in major institutions of American culture. In her trenchant analysis of the gender assumptions so deeply rooted in the outlook of the psychiatric and helping professions, she reveals the waysin which the therapeutic theory and practise of the post-World War II United States has been riddled with a deep ambivalenceabout women. In particular , the ineffectual or "monster" Mother seemed an irresistible target to blame for the problems of "dysfunctional" families or individual neuroses. The wide influence and impact of the therapeutic professions makes them central to understanding modern American culture; equally,their own root- 168 Canadian Review of American Studies ed assumptions about gender, and their ambivalence towards women are central to an understanding of these professions themselves. Similarly, Clare Virginia Eby, in her essay on Thorstein Veblen, demonstrates that we cannot really understand this major critical voice in American civilization if we do not fully appreciate the extent to which his ideas about gender and women were central to his critique of late-Victorian/earlytwentieth -century America. In his iconoclastic "deconstruction" of his society, Veblen, in fact, anticipated much contemporary criticism of conventional "manliness," describing it as literally primitive and barbaric as well as predatory. He anticipated modern gender analysis too in depicting the "lady" as not only a cultural construction, but as constructed as part of the consolidation of power by the upper-class male. Considerations of gender seem woven into practically every strand of discourse in this particularly crucial period in American history, and Veblen was hardly unique in attributing a "natural" superiority to women. What was unusual was his locating this superiority not in greater moral purity or maternal tenderness, but in a natural tendency to productivity and an "instinct for workmanship." In his characteristic reversal of conventional stereotypes, the "engineers"who were to be Veblen's saviours of civilization might be biologically male, but in their attitudes and value system they would be nearer the world-view of women. Part II of this project also offers a broader, transborder perspective on the study of women and gender. As much recent work makes clear, gender as a category of analysis is too protean to be bounded by a national culture. As Carolyn Redl's essay points out, in the modern study of literature by American women, the interpretive context is more likely to be seen as a supranational construction and experience of gender than a national culture , and French critical theory is more likely to be invoked as a key to understanding than the American context. Women's history still tends to be more firmly anchored to a particular nation state. But the logic of women's history will increasingly call political boundaries into question as the proper perimeters for the study of the female experience. As the review essays by Robert Hohner, Patricia Skidmore, and Janet Billson demonstrate, the temperance movement and foreign missionary endeavours, like the feminist movement itself, were phenomena of the English-speaking world and Amer- lean V. Matthews I 169 ican participants knew themselves to be part of an international sisterhood. Canadian women's historians have been rather more ready than Americans to cast their nets outside territorial waters. As Linda Kealey points out, while owing a good deal to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 167-169
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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