A brilliant gender analysis from one of the leading historians of early America. Kerber (History/Univ. of Iowa; Women of the...


NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BE LADIES: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship

A brilliant gender analysis from one of the leading historians of early America. Kerber (History/Univ. of Iowa; Women of the Republic, not reviewed, etc.) examines the legal understandings of gender and citizenship from a new perspective; while others have focused heavily on the privileges of citizenship, Kerber posits that it is actually women's exclusion from the obligations of citizenship that have perpetuated an inherently sexist legal system. Kerber arranges her chapters according to the five fundamental obligations of citizens: paying taxes, avoiding vagrancy (i.e., holding a job), performing jury duty and military service, and refraining from treason. In the first four cases, women have been excluded for most of the nation's history. The book's thematic organization only serves to underscore the timeliness of these issues: In one chapter, for instance, the author offers examples relating to the responsibilities of a female citizen married to a male noncitizen, from the American Revolution up to a 1998 Supreme Court decision in which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented, citing gender discrimination. Throughout, Kerber has adopted an engaging narrative style which offers women's stories first, followed by legal and historical analyses. The study is also peppered with a sophisticated wit, as when she reminds us that the 18th-century slang for penis was ""member,"" indicating the extent to which male anatomy defined citizenship. Finally, Kerber is refreshingly sensitive to the historical entanglements of race and class; for example, her chapter on work profiles a 19th-century black woman who was ""damned"" either way concerning work--her gender constrained her from working, but her race demanded it. A tour de force in every respect, and required reading for American historians and legal scholars, Kerber's new book is stunning.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998


Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998