View the H-Histsex Discussion Logs by month
View the Prior Message in H-Histsex's August 2011 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
View the Next Message in H-Histsex's August 2011 logs by: [date] [author] [thread]
Visit the H-Histsex home page.
Kevin P. Murphy. Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform. New York Columbia University Press, 2010. 320 pp. $26.50 (paper), ISBN 978-0-231-12997-8. Reviewed by Thomas A. Foster Published on H-Histsex (August, 2011) Commissioned by Timothy W. Jones Reviews Editor H-histsex [mailto:email@example.com] Of Mollycoddles and Mugwumps: Gender, Sexuality, and Politics in the Progressive Era This clearly written and cleanly argued gem of a gendered political history examines the "historical connections between categories of gender and sexuality and American political culture" (p. 2). Turn-of-the-twentieth-century masculinity has been previously studied, most notably by Gail Bederman, but as Kevin P. Murphy argues, his book exposes the "political and class contexts" that birthed the ideal of "strenuous manhood" (p. 3). _Political Manhood_ shows how as Teddy Roosevelt and others gained political power by wrapping themselves in the politically savvy mantle of masculinity, they were also successful in marginalizing political opponents by characterizing them as "weak and effeminate." Murphy ties the connections he makes between gender and politics to the history of sexuality by arguing that such a denigration of political manhood was possible partly because of the "powerful correlation of weakness and effeminacy with homosexuality at the turn of the century" (p. 3). Murphy finds that rhetoric used in political campaigns explicitly used terms emerging in the medical literature of the time period including "third sex" and "political hermaphrodite." To accomplish all this, Murphy examines political discourses and pays special attention to the "careers and writings" of reformers in late nineteenth-century New York City (p. 171). "Mugwumps" and "goo goos" were the negative nicknames that a younger generation used to brand the older generation of elite liberal reformers. The younger generation positioned itself as more in keeping with working-class values, culture, and political interests, and forged a cross-class bond that drew on and reinforced the images of the masculine working-class man and the effete elite. The Tammany Hall patronage system was the location for much of this political jockeying. Murphy shows how the new generation of reformers idealized and appropriated working-class manhood and successfully competed with the older generation for the "votes and allegiances" of immigrant men newly establishing themselves in the social order of New York City. In the early twentieth century, this generation of reformers, which included Roosevelt, made full use of the rhetoric of effeminate male sexual degeneracy to shore up its political power and, at the same time, helped to create the cultural image of the homosexual and yoked it to weakness. But not all of his investigation is about the denigration of homosexuality. In settlement house politics, for example, Murphy locates an eroticism of same-sex bonds for men and women that "stood in contrast to emerging medical models of homosexual pathology and heterosexual normativity" (p. 105). Other scholars of the history of homosexuality have focused on the emerging medical literature of the period or in social histories of working-class life, but Murphy locates the "third sex" in the political world of New York City. In doing so, he uncovers one of the ways that medical discussions of homosexuality were disseminated and popularized. The "mollycoddle" did not drink or swear and according to Roosevelt was a "man who won't take hard knocks, who flinches from the crowd" (p. 12). As Murphy astutely discerns, the mollycoddle looked a lot like the "invert" or "third sex" of medical literature and the "fairy" or "pansy" of the queer urban social world, as described by George Chauncey in _Gay New York _(1994). Murphy is careful to point out that the connections here are "tenuous" yet nonetheless compelling (p. 27). Although his focus is on New York City, Murphy points out the broader applicability of the study by reminding readers that many of the reformers, including settlement house activists, became nationally prominent voices and enjoyed a certain cultural status throughout the United States. More concretely, they also participated in national and international networks of like-minded liberal reformers via conventions and correspondence. Roosevelt and his ilk were, of course, full of contradictions as they employed the rhetoric of strenuous manhood. He coined a term, "mollycoddle," that only an elite effete man would know. And they sought to use the same "militaristic rhetoric" and methods of securing power that Tammany Hall had used while still characterizing it as politically corrupt. Additionally, they denigrated homosexuality as "sexual inversion" while engaging in the homoerotics of an "ideal eroticized cross-class social brotherhood" (p. 8). Of course, this is more than a history of the construction of homosexuality and masculinity for those categories were built explicitly on freshly developed notions of normative sexuality and understanding of proper roles for women at the turn of the century. At one point, Murphy notes the work of Carroll Smith-Rosenberg who showed how New Women were demeaned as "'mannish lesbians,' who threatened the nation's social, sexual, and political order" (p. 33). And he explains that the negative portrayal of sentimentality in masculine political discourse came about because it was "a quality typically identified as feminine" (p. 8). Accusing a political opponent of being sentimental or idealistic was the equivalent of labeling them weak, womanly, and sexually inverted. If Murphy finds that the men were criticized for being like women, what does this tell us about how concerns about the feminization of turn-of-the-twentieth-century America and misogyny in political life? Such discourses lurked in the background and broke through at moments during women's political activism around reform work, settlement houses, and of course, suffrage. Murphy can hardly be faulted for not taking on a broader cultural history but scholars of those subfields should be sure to engage _Political Manhood_ for all it contains. In an epilogue, Murphy does a wonderful job discussing how, once unleashed, the political move to combine sex and gender with popular democratic rule endured through the twentieth century "and beyond," and he gestures to a historical arc that draws the transition from the "familiar figure of the effete and effeminate reformer" to the "elusive and sinister threat to the American political system" that he would become (p. 184). He notes the ways that the "mollycoddle" and the "red blood" operate today--although known by other names--and hints that at the core, although a study of gender and sexuality in the political realm, this is also study of the rise of antigay culture in "American public life" (p. 200). Citation: Thomas A. Foster. Review of Murphy, Kevin P., _Political Manhood: Red Bloods, Mollycoddles, and the Politics of Progressive Era Reform_. H-Histsex, H-Net Reviews. August, 2011. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=32794 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.