chapter  7
25 Pages

Gender and sexuality: ‘to break the old circuits’

In his commentary upon the Columbian Exposition of 1893, Alan Trachtenberg describes the special women’s building as occupying a space between the Court of Honor and the Midway Plaisance, ‘at the point of transition from the official view of reality to the world of exotic amusement, of pleasure’ (Trachtenberg 1982:222). This locational irony suggests the position of women in America at the time of the Exposition, since they were, on one hand, revered as the guardians of virtue, the home and the domestic economy, whilst still seen as possessions, apolitical and, at worst, objects for the male gaze-like the ‘exotic’ women on display on the midway. Should women have been integrated into the main body of the Exhibition, or should they have a separate building? If they did not have the latter division, would their activities and achievements be smothered by the dominant presence of masculine displays? These discussions from the 1890s reveal significant arguments about gender, power and identity that have persisted throughout the twentieth century. Such interpretations reveal the importance of gender within the politics of culture and begin to show the interrelationships of power, identity, ethnicity and class with issues of gender and sexuality.