Wendy Kline Reading for 5/9

Wendy Kline: “Motherhood, Morality, and the ‘Moron'”

                This article provides a brief history of the eugenics movement, as well as outlining the argument that eugenicists made for “bettering the race.” The opening section of the paper recounts the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco in 1915. At this exposition, eugenicists held a week-long conference entitled “Race Betterment Week.” This conference was the most widely attended and publicized portion of the exposition and is cited as evidence of the growing fear of “race suicide” among white middle-class people. Kline uses the Exposition’s sculpture of the “mother of tomorrow” as a recurring image throughout this piece.

                Kline briefly discusses the historical context in which eugenics gained ideological authority; she explains that the economic changes during the late 1880s-1910 “increased anxieties that the middle class was losing social authority” (9). Around this time middle-class white men were experiencing a strange physical ailment that became known as “neurasthenia”, which often resulted in “nervous strain” and “mental and physical illness” (9). Kline says that at this point white men became acutely aware of the “powerful masculinity” that African American men appeared to have. This manifested in the creation of the “negro rapist” myth, and the stated desire to protect “the sanctity of southern white womanhood” (9). Immigrant men soon became grouped in the same category as African American men, and viewed as threats to white morality.

                One of the more interesting parts of this reading for me was the way that poor and minority women were categorized as “women adrift” while middle-class white women were going through a “new woman” transformation. Equally interesting is the way that eugenics sought to stamp both of these trends out. The goal of positive eugenics was to get middle-class white women back into the traditional roles of domestic housewives and arbiters of morality and away from the independent “new woman” mode. On the other hand, negative eugenics was used to classify some women as mentally unfit to be mothers, thereby gaining the authority to sterilize and control the reproductive capacities of these women. The women who were unfit were characterized as “women adrift” and condemned as “morons”(which is described as someone “who demonstrated a mental age of eight to twelve years” (22)).

Questions:

1. There are various ways that “science” was used as “proof” of the superiority of white people during this time (Darwinism, Mendelian genetics, statistics, IQ tests, psychology). What are the legacies of these scientific failings? Is science used today to discriminate against groups of people? Why is science still considered to be the way to “progress” and “advancement” when there are many examples of science contributing to policies and beliefs that discriminate against people? How did science and issues of morality become intertwined by eugenicists?

2. How do the binaries presented in this article (such as “Mother of tomorrow” vs. “woman adrift”, “normal” v. “abnormal”) compare to other binaries that we have discussed in class (savage v. civilized, mind v. body, etc.)?

3. Are there places in the text that evoke imagery of native people? Is it similar to the imagery that Columbus and other European explorers used to describe the native people that they encountered? (Section 24, 17)

4. How did eugenics “offer a solution to both assaults on the authority of white middle-class manhood” (19)?

Representations of Native American Athletes

Question: How are contemporary representations of American Indian female athletes influenced by European colonial representations of Native Americans and modern representations of Native Americans in U.S. media?

Common stereotypes of American Indians include Native Americans as “savages,” sexually deviant, closer to nature, and morally deprived.  In the first part of this course we read several articles about the conquest of the Americas and the ways in which Native Americans were represented by the European colonizers. I will draw from Stephanie Wood’s article “Sexual Violation in the Conquest of the Americas” and Andrea Smith’s “Not an Indian Tradition: The Sexual Colonization of Native Peoples” to describe the ways in which native women were depicted by the colonizers. I will compare these representations, and contemporary representations of native women (such as in Pocahontas), to the ways that the Schimmel sisters and other native athletes are represented in U.S. media.

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Representations of Native American Women in Sports

During the 2013 March Madness college basketball women’s tournament, the University of Louisville women’s basketball team reached the final game. This was very surprising considering that they had to beat the defending champion, the Baylor Lady Bears, who also happened to have the most dominant player in women’s college basketball history, Brittany Griner. It was also surprising because Louisville was a #5 seed in the tournament, which was the lowest seed to ever reach the championship game. Along with the surprising success of the team, two members of the team received extensive media coverage: sisters Shoni and Jude Schimmel. The Schimmel sisters grew up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in southern Oregon, and they were celebrated in the media for serving as role models for other Native American children in the U.S. I want to examine the news coverage of the Schimmel sisters to see how they were represented as Native women, especially representations of them as athletes.

In this article by Mary Kim Titla of the Indian Country Today Media Network describes the Schimmel sisters as inspirations to other young girls on reservations. The star player, Shoni Schimmel, is quoted as saying:

“I hope we are a big inspiration to Native American people to believe in their dreams.”

Girls from the San Carlos Apache Reservation are interviewed and describe the sisters as “role models.” Overall, Shoni and Jude Schimmel are described as inspirations for other girls and are shown signing autographs at a basketball camp.

 

In this video put together by ESPN, the sisters are also described as role models, and we see them describe their experiences of being Native American and playing basketball. The video describes that their mother was not able to play basketball in college because nobody wanted to recruit a Native American player, and we see how that incident has motivated them.

 

The picture below is part of a photo essay

I’m actually not sure what to make of this picture. I just thought that it was an interesting inclusion in the photo essay, and I would like to examine it more.

 

This article describes the feeling on the reservation watching the Schimmel sisters on national television, and how they inspired the children to take chances and follow what they love. I have yet to come across anything negative about the Schimmel sisters.

 

I think that maybe this would have to be expanded to native athletes in general, not just the Schimmels. There are very few athletes who are nationally recognized as being Native American, and I think it would be an interesting topic to look into. I think that it would be interesting to see how these athletes are represented in relation to the reservations, the mainstream sports media, and informally on blogs or social media.