Wiki Wednesday #21

22 08 2007

1.) Go to Wikipedia.
2.) Click on “Random article.”
3.) Report on the outcome.

Lizzie Compton

Lizzie Compton (born c.1847) was a woman who disguised herself as man in order to fight for the Union in the American Civil War. She enlisted at the age of 14, and served in seven different regiments until she was seriously wounded two years later in the Battle of Tebbs Bend in 1863. She was from London, Ontario.

As you probably know (if you’re from the USA, anyway), and as this article details, many women served in the military in the Civil War. This was done on the sly, but isn’t it cool what at least some women were doing by the 1860s? This kind of evidence, as well as the suffrage movement that was burgeoning in the 19th century, suggest that we should’ve achieved more egalitarian gender roles long before the women’s civil rights movement of the late 20th century. Something got in the way, though, and I tend to blame the ridiculous Victorian social ethic that took root in the late 19th century.

In fact—and, gosh, I’m really digressing now—this reminds me of another one of my pet theories/observations: So much of what we regard as “traditional” really isn’t. Instead, it’s merely traceable to a particular point in time, the late 19th century. Whether we’re talking about gender roles or what the national pastime is or good table manners, it turns out that what we view as the “traditional” or “correct” answer is merely what happened to be in vogue at a particular point in time. I think that point in time was so key, culturally, because the Industrial Revolution was occurring at the same time, causing new social structures to align with particular bits of cultural debris.

I could probably go on and on about this, but I won’t! Relieved?

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One response

23 08 2007
Shelby Meyerhoff

Jay,

Thank you for highlighting the fact that women in many times and places have resisted gender socialization. The striving of women to be economically, politically, and sexually independent is hardly a new phenomenon, although we may have more opportunities now than in previous eras.

I agree that the collective sense of history can be very near-sighted. Many Americans consider the social expectations of the 1950’s to be “traditional,” even though that era actually marked a significant cultural shift from previous decades.

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