I decided to publish my write-ups from my comprehensive exam reading fields. I am publishing them *as is.* Thus they represent my thoughts as a new PhD student. They were written between September 2011 and July 2012. The full collection is accessible here.

Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

Kristin L. Hoganson

Kristin L. Hoganson is a professor of history at the University of Illinois. In Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Phillipine-American Wars, Hoganson, focusing mainly on the rhetoric of American military and government officials, argues that the turn-of-the-century masculinity crisis, linked to the fear that the effeminizing affects of over-civilization had finally caught up to the American populace, played a major role in United States foreign policy. Hoganson looks at the events leading up to American involvement in Cuba and the Spanish-American War, which she refers to as the “restoration of American chivalry.” American involvement in the Philippines, on the other hand, was characterized by a new assertion of rugged, violent manhood and a rejection of Victorian masculinity. This reassertion of rugged masculinity in the Philippines, according to Hoganson, was considered successful in the eyes of the participants, which accounts for the temporary move away from American imperialism in the early twentieth century.

Hoganson asserts that foreign policy decisions are not made in a bubble; rather, they are the result of a cultural atmosphere. The Spanish-American War, she writes, cannot be easily explicated in terms of national self-interest and strategy, and thus there must be a cultural reason behind American involvement. Hoganson agrees with Richard Hofstadter concept of the “psychic crisis”; as a result of the Depression of 1893, American men had become insecure about their place in society. The 1890s also marked a transition period between the Civil War generation and those who had grown up in the aftermath of the Civil War. This transition was especially chaotic in the area of gender convictions; many men fighting to keep traditional gender roles and many women attempting assert their right to, if not total, at least political equality. Hoganson argues that the activity of women’s suffragettes caused American men a great deal of worry. American men viewed the realm of politics through a gendered lens. Political leadership, citizenship, even democracy itself were considered to reside firmly in the man’s sphere. The supposed political effectiveness of the government rested on its manly character, which, Hoganson argues, caused politicians to attempt to legitimize their policies by making them seem advantageous to the advancement of manhood. In the wake of the Civil War, these individuals believed that their nation, which was made great by the heroism of soldiers, needed another war to created another generation of war heroes. Hoganson refers to the most enthusiastic American imperialists as jingoes. The jingoes argued that the United States needed overseas markets, territories, and even war in order to supply an arena in which men could exercise their manliness. In the case of Cuba, the United States portrayed the Cuban population as a populace of pure, chaste women and chivalric men fighting for the safety of their women. The Maine disaster gave the Jingoes an excuse to go to war to defend American manhood. As the Philippine-American war followed so closely behind the Spanish-American War, Hoganson states that it is safe to say that the same gender insecurities played a role in the Philippines. Filipinos were characterized as unruly children who could not manage their own concerns, providing Americans the perfect opportunity to practice manly governance. After these two wars, the United States retreated from imperialism because the male population of the United States had effectively improved its manhood, and thus, colonialism no longer had a cultural impetus.

If one considers Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “The Strenuous Life,” as Hoganson does, one finds that the assertions that Hoganson makes do make sense. Roosevelt’s language in “The Strenuous Life,” is gendered and he is quite clear about the importance of maintaining traditional gender roles—the men are to go abroad and assert American interests, avoiding national degeneration in the process, and the women are to stay at home and raise strong children. G. Edward White’s analysis in “The Eastern Establishment and the Western Experience” also supports Hoganson’s conclusions as White demonstrates how American elites, as a result of industrialization, were seen by Roosevelt and Owen Wister as becoming morally and physically weak. The individuals in White’s account turn toward the West for a remedy to this societal rot, while the individuals in Hoganson’s account, including Roosevelt, look to imperialist measures.

Feature Photo: “Old bronze, muzzle-loading siege gun used by Filipinos against Americans in their advance toward Caloocan,” F.C. Yohn, ca. 1911, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print

Published by Jessica M. DeWitt

Dr. Jessica M. DeWitt is an environmental historian of Canada and the United States. She is passionate about the use of digital technologies to bridge the gap between the public and researchers. In addition to her community and professional work, she offers various editing and social media consultancy services.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: