Thursday, August 17, 2017

Wendy L. Rouse's "Her Own Hero"

Wendy L. Rouse teaches United States History and social science teacher preparation at San Jose State University. Her research interests include childhood, family, and gender history during the Progressive Era.

Rouse applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Her Own Hero: The Origins of the Women's Self-Defense Movement, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Her Own Hero is a perfect page to sum up the main point of the book. This page includes one of the many images I found through the course of my research and is especially relevant because it was an image just like this one that first inspired me to write this book. In fact, if I could have written the book solely as a series of images, I definitely would have since there were so many great illustrations. Pictures can be much more powerful than words.

The particular image on page 99 shows a woman physically fighting back against an attacker on the street. Dressed in the attire typical of a respectable middle class woman of the early twentieth century, this woman’s actions seem anything but typical. Her Own Hero is the story of women, like her, who defied gender boundaries and stretched the limits of acceptable feminine behavior by learning jiu-jitsu and boxing.

Industrialization and urbanization as well as the expansion of women’s rights in the early twentieth century combined to increasingly draw women out into the public world for school, work, and leisure. Yet, the presence of women in what were viewed as traditionally male spaces generated a great deal of backlash. Mashers (a slang term used to describe men who made unwanted sexual advances toward women) harassed women on the streets, making many women fear for their personal safety. Numerous cases of violent physical attacks and sexual assaults made headlines and generated even more anxiety about women in the public sphere. Law enforcement intervened when willing and able, but most women recognized that the police could not be everywhere at once. When women were told that they should probably just stay at home or wait for a male family member to accompany and protect them, they rejected that idea and determined to empower themselves as their own defenders and to physically assert their right to public space.

Her Own Hero explores the variety of ways that women learned to fight back and the political implications of their new physical empowerment.
Learn more about Her Own Hero at the New York University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue