This essay examines the cultural construction of gender in early America in order to understand the intersection of Puritan theology, Puritan evaluations of womanhood, and the seventeenth-century witchcraft episodes, in which 78 percent of the accused wee women. The Puritans' earthly perception of women's bodies and souls corresponded to their otherworldly belief concerning Satan's powers. New Englanders considered women more vulnerable to Satan because their image of the soul and its relationship to the body allowed them to associate womanhood with evil and sin. During the witchcraft episodes, the learned and the common people alike molded belief and interpreted circumstances, in the end cooperating in the construction of their natural and supernatural world. Of course, this seventeenth-century world was influenced by considerations of gender. Not only did Puritans' understanding of women's and men's bodies and souls reflect the gendered nature of their social universe, but the supernatural behaviors and powers that they believed the devil conferred on his female and male witches echoed the more mundane gender arrangements of colonial New England.
Elizabeth Reis is Associate Professor of Women's and Gender History at the University of Oregon. She teach classes in Women's History, History of Sexuality, and Sex and Medical Ethics.
Professor Reis received her A.B. from Smith College in 1980, her M.A. in History from Brown University in 1982, and her Ph.D from UC Berkeley in 1991.
Elizabeth Reis is interested in both the history and contemporary analysis of medical ethics, sexuality, and religion. She has written recently about male circumcision, transgender issues, intersex surgeries, and informed consent. She also serves on the Ethics Committee and the Ethics Consult Team at PeaceHealth Medical Center in Eugene, and is the Content Editor of nursingclio.org, a collaborative blog project that focuses on the intersection of gender, sexuality, and medicine.
Elizabeth Reis Profile Information:
- Title: Professor
- Phone: (541
- Office: 320 Hendricks Hall
- Office Hours: On leave until 2017
- E-mail: [email protected]
- Affiliated Departments: Women's And Gender Studies
- Interests: Historical and contemporary analysis of medical ethics, pediatric ethics, autonomy, and religion. Prof. Reis has written recently about male circumcision, transgender issues, intersex surgeries, and informed consent.
Elizabeth Reis Publications:
- Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009; paper 2012)
Damned Women: Sinners and Witches in Puritan New England (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997; paper 1999
- Ed., Spellbound: Women and Witchcraft in America (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, Inc., 1998
- Ed., Dear Lizzie: Memoir of a Jewish Immigrant Woman (Philadelphia: Xlibris, 2000
- Ed., American Sexual Histories: A Blackwell Reader in American Social and Cultural History (London and Malden, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 2001; 2nd edition, 2012
- "Transgender Identity at a Crossroads: A Close Reading of a 'Queer
' Story from 1857"Early American Studies (Special issue: Beyond the Binaries: Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America
), Forthcoming, 2014).
- "The Ethics of American Circumcision in a Globalized World,
" The Global Studies Journal 4, 2 (2012
- "Divergence or Disorder? The Politics of Naming Intersex,
" Perspectives in Biology and Medicine 50:4 (Autumn 2007
- "Hermaphrodites and Same-Sex Sex in Early America,
" in Thomas Foster, ed., Long Before Stonewall: Histories of Same-Sex Sexualities in Early America (New York: New York University Press, 2007
- "Impossible Hermaphrodites: Intersex in America, 1620-1960
" Journal of American History 92 (September 2005