The Unsexed Mob” in the Public Mind

Friday, January 6, 2017: 3:30 PM
Room 503 (Colorado Convention Center)
Shannon M. Smith, College of Saint Benedict, Saint John's University
To social commentators and promoters of law and order in the late nineteenth century, riots were social ruptures that seemed as if the world had turned upside down. This paper will explore the public rhetoric used to describe rioters, both men and women, as people who had become unmoored from their appropriate gender roles, and thus from their rightful place in society. Newspapers, police reports, and national guard manuals all used gendered rhetoric to establish rioters as outside the bounds of public decency and as threats to public safety. The militia sought to put down hyper-masculine “brutes” and “manly Amazons” who threatened the reputations of honorable workers and citizens not just by their use of violence to enact change, but because they publicly defied acceptable actions of their sex. Workers themselves, however, offered a more expansive understanding of their roles as women and men who rightly used violence to secure their proper place as family breadwinners and caregivers. In turn, rioters called out the militia and police as cowards who failed as peacekeepers and as men. This gendered rhetoric impacted public opinion and helped to turn middle-class observers against labor agitation and in favor of government intervention.
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