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Gender and Utopian Visions in a Post-Utopian Era: Americanism, Human Rights, Market Fundamentalism

  • Mary Nolan (a1)


Utopian visions that produced distinctly dystopic projects are rightly associated with the catastrophically violent and repressive first half of twentieth-century European history— “the age of extremes” in Eric Hobsbawm's apt phrase. National Socialism, fascism, communism, and European colonialism represented totalizing, highly ideological visions of how politics and economics, society and culture should be dramatically reorganized. Each of these projects deployed gendered rhetorics and representations; each was explicitly preoccupied with redefining masculinity and femininity, marriage and family, domesticity and sexuality. Each sought to subordinate individuals to an overarching social project, integrating some, excluding others, always elaborating complex hierarchies of gender, race, and culture.



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1 Hobsbawm, Eric, The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914–1991 (New York: Pantheon, 1994).

2 For an introduction to the literature on women and National Socialism, see Koonz, Claudia, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, the Family, and Nazi Politics (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1987). Gisela Bock, “Antinatalism, Maternity, and Paternity in National Socialist Racism,” and von Saldern, Adelheid, “Victims or Perpetrators? Controversies About the Role of Women in Nazi Germany,” in Nazism and German Society, 1933–1945, ed. Crew, David F. (New York: Routledge, 1994), 110165. Mason, Timothy W., “Women in Germany, 1925–1940: Family, Welfare, and Work,” in Mason, Timothy W., Nazism, Fascism, and the Working Class, ed. Caplan, Jane (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 131211.

3 de Grazia, Victoria, How Fascism Ruled Women: Italy, 1922–1945 (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1992).

4 Stoler, Ann Laura, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2002); Cooper, Frederick and Stoler, Ann Laura, Tensions of Empire: Colonial Cultures in a Bourgeois World (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1997).

5 Goldman, Wendy, Women, the State, and Revolution: Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917–1936 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

6 Ibid.; Herzog, Dagmar, Sex after Fascism: Memory and Morality in Twentieth Century Germany (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 1063; Mason, “Women in Germany”; Stoler, Carnal Knowledge.

7 Mayer, Arno J., Why Did the Heavens not Darken? The “Final Solution” in History (New York: Pantheon, 1988), 31.

8 Hoerder, Dirk, Cultures in Contact: World Migrations in the Second Millennium (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002), 478. Mazower, Mark, Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century (New York: Knopf, 1999), 212.

9 Bessel, Richard and Schumann, Dirk, eds., Life after Death: Approaches to a Cultural and Social History of Europe During the 1940s and 1950s (Cambridge and New York: German Historical Institute and Cambridge University Press, 2003).

10 Heineman, Elizabeth, “The Hour of the Woman: Memories of Germany's ‘Crisis Years’ and German National Identity,” American Historical Review 101, no. 2 (April 1996): 354–95.

11 Judt, Tony, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (New York: Penguin, 2005), 5.

12 Maier, Charles S., “The Two Postwar Eras and the Conditions for Stability in Twentieth-Century Western Europe,” American Historical Review 86, no. 2 (April 1981): 327–52.

13 Mazower, Dark Continent, x.

14 For recent debates about what visions the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were or were not pursuing in the early Cold War, see Gaddis, John Lewis, The Cold War: A New History (New York: Penguin, 2006). Leffler, Melvyn, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War (New York: Hill and Wang, 2008). Zubok, Vladislav M., A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2008).

15 Borgwardt, Elizabeth, A New Deal for the World: America's Vision for Human Rights (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). Maier, Charles S., “The Politics of Productivity: The Foundations of American International Economic Policy after World War II,” in Maier, Charles S., In Search of Stability (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 121–52.

16 Ellwood, David W., Rebuilding Europe: Western Europe, America, and Postwar Reconstruction (London: Longman, 1992). de Grazia, Victoria, Irresistible Empire: America's Advance through 20th-Century Europe (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005). Kroes, Rob, If You've Seen One, You've Seen the Mall: Europeans and American Mass Culture (Champagne and Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996). Pells, Richard, Not Like Us: How Europeans Have Loved, Hated, and Transformed American Culture since World War II (New York: Basic, 1998).

17 Goldman, Women, the State, and Revolution. Kotkin, Stephen, Magnetic Mountain: Stalinism as a Civilization (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995). Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Russian Revolution, 1917–1932 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 110–61; and Fitzpatrick, Sheila, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).

18 Taubman, William, Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (New York: Norton, 2004).

19 Journal of Contemporary History, special issue on “Domestic Dreamworlds: Notions of Home in Post-1945 Europe,” 40, no. 2 (April 2005).

20 Judt, Postwar, 5-6, is critical of triumphalist and inevitabilist narratives, as is Mazower, Dark Continent, xi-xii, but neither attends to the gendered dimensions of postwar developments.

21 Phillips-Fein, Kim, Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (New York: Norton, 2009).

22 “We are all socialists now,” proclaimed a Newsweek cover on February 16, 2009, while Martin Wolf of the Financial Times announced the demise of market fundamentalism and assured us that Keynes was back; December 23, 2008, and February 17, 2009. One need only read the New York Times business section, however, to see the rapid resurgence of antiregulatory attitudes and faith in the market as arbiter of worth; March-April 2009, passim.

23 Ehlstain, Jean Bethke, Public Man, Private Woman: Women in Social and Political Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981). Okin, Susan Moller, Women in Western Political Thought (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979). McPhearson, C. B., The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism (New York: Oxford, 1964).

24 David Ellwood, keynote speech, “Marshall Plan and the Revolution of Rising Expectations,” conference on “Appropriating America, Making Europe,” Amsterdam, January 2009.

25 Nolan, Mary, “Consuming America, Producing Gender,” The American Century in Europe, ed. Moore, R. Laurence and Vaudagna, Maurizio (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2003), 243–61.

26 On austerity, see Forty, Adrian, Objects of Desire (New York: Pantheon, 1986), 207–21. Merkel, Ina, “Consumer Culture in the GDR, or How the Struggle for Antimodernity was Lost on the Battleground of Culture,” in Getting and Spending: European and American Consumer Societies in the Twentieth Century, ed. Strasser, Susan, McGovern, Charles, and Judt, Matthias (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 5983, 281–99, 301–16. Hardyment, Christina, Slice of Life: The British Way of Eating Since 1945 (London: Penguin, 1995). Wildt, Michael, Am Beginn der “Konsumgesellschaft.” Mangelerfahrung, Lebenshaltung, Wohlstandshoffnung in Westdeutschland in den fünfziger Jahren (Hamburg: Ergebnisse, 1994). Bowden, Sue and Offer, Avner, “Household Appliances and the Use of Time: The United States and Britain since the 1920s,” Economic History Review 47, no. 4 (November 1994): 725–48. On legitimation, see Carter, Erica, How German is She? Postwar German Reconstruction and the Consuming Woman (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1996), 49, 45–59. On appliances, see Marling, Karel Ann, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 255. Loehlin, Jennifer A., From Rugs to Riches: Housework, Consumption, and Modernity in Germany (Oxford: Berg, 1999): 70.

27 Judt, Postwar, 353.

28 For the Brussels World's Fair, see Haddow, Robert H., Pavilions of Plenty: Exhibiting American Culture Abroad in the 1950s (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997), 106–11. For the kitchen debate, see Marling, As Seen on TV, 242–83. Cristina Carbone, “Staging the Kitchen Debate: How Splitnik Got Normalized in the United States,” and Reid, Susan, “‘Our Kitchen is Just as Good’: Soviet Responses to the American Kitchen,” in Cold War Kitchen: Americanization, Technology, and European Users, ed. Oldenziel, Ruth and Zachmann, Karin (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009), 59112.

29 Greg Castillo, “The American ‘Fat Kitchen’ in Europe: Postwar Domestic Modernity and Marshall Plan Strategies of Enchantment”; Irene Cieraad, “The Radiant American Kitchen: Domesticating Dutch Nuclear Energy”; and Shane Hamilton, “Supermarket USA Confronts State Socialism: Airlifting the Technopolitics of Industrial Food Distribution into Cold War Yugoslavia,” in Cold War Kitchen, ed. Oldenziel and Zachmann, 33–58, 113–59.

30 Carter, How German is She?, 45–106, passim. Rudolph, Nicole, “At Home in Postwar France: The Design and Construction of Domestic Space, 1945–1975” (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 2005).

31 Loehlin, From Rugs to Riches, has reproductions of these images as do Carter, How German is She?, and Marling, As Seen on TV.

32 For Tupperware in the U.S. and globally, see Clarke, Alison J., Tupperware: The Promise of Plastic in 1950s America (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999).

33 Reid, Susan E., “The Khrushchev Kitchen: Domesticating the Scientific-Technological Revolution,” Journal of Contemporary History 40, no. 2 (2005): 289316. Reid, “‘Our Kitchen is Just as Good.’” Varga-Harris, Christine, “Homemaking and the Aesthetic and Moral Perimeters of the Soviet Home during the Khrushchev Era,” Journal of Social History 41, no. 3 (Spring 2008): 561–89.

34 Harsch, Donna, Revenge of the Domestic: Women, the Family, and Communism in the German Democratic Republic (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007), 165–97; statistics, 183.

35 For the interwar vision, see Nolan, Mary, “Housework Made Easy,” Feminist Studies (Fall 1990): 549–78. Martina Hessler, “The Frankfurt Kitchen: The Model of Modernity and the ‘Madness’ of Traditional Users, 1926-1933,” in Cold War Kitchen, ed. Oldenziel and Zachmann, 163–84. The American emphasis on widespread homeownership was not shared in Europe.

36 Cohen, Lizabeth, A Consumer's Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (New York: Vintage, 2003).

37 Carter, How German is She?, 45–71; de Grazia, Irresistible Empire, 343.

38 Nolan, “Consuming America, Producing Gender.” Lundestad, Geir, “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945–52,” Journal of Peace Research 23, no. 3 (Sept. 1986): 263–77.

39 Reid, Susan E. and Crowley, David, eds., Style and Socialism: Modernity and Material Culture in Post-War Eastern Europe (Oxford: Berg, 2000). Merkel, Ina, Utopia und Bedürfnis. Die Geschichte der Konsumkultur in der DDR (Cologne: Böhlau, 1999). Pence, Katherine and Betts, Paul, eds., Socialist Modern: East Germany Everyday Culture and Politics (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 2008).

40 Poiger, Uta, Jazz, Rock, and Rebels: Cold War Politics and American Culture in a Divided Germany (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000).

41 Einhorn, Barbara, Cinderella Goes to Market: Citizenship, Gender, and Women's Movement in East Central Europe (London: Verso, 1993). Funk, Nanette and Mueller, Magda, eds., Gender Politics and Post-Communism: Reflections from Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union (New York: Routledge, 1993). Gil, Susan and Kligman, Gail, The Politics of Gender After Socialism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000).

42 Einhorn, Cinderella, and Gil and Kligman, The Politics of Gender.

43 For an introduction to these debates from Veblen, Adorno, and Horkheimer through Galbraith and Bourdieu and contemporary defenders of consumption, see Schor, Juliet B. and Holt, Douglas B., eds., The Consumer Society Reader (New York: The New Press, 2000). For a recent sweeping critique, see Barber, Benjamin R., Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (New York: Norton, 2007).

44 Hixson, Walter L., Parting the Curtain: Propaganda, Culture, and the Cold War, 1945–1961 (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1997).

45 World Resources Institute, (accessed April 30, 2009).

46 Dauvergne, Peter, The Shadows of Consumption: Consequences for the Global Environment (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008).

47 Elshtain, Public Man, Private Woman; and Okin, Women in Western Political Thought.

48 Hunt, Lynn, Inventing Human Rights: A History (New York: Norton, 2008).

49 Borgwardt, A New Deal for the World, 4–6. Whether Roosevelt and Churchill realized the implications of using the phrase “all the men” or included it merely for rhetorical effect remains unclear; 29.

50 Ibid., 35–45.

51 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (accessed April 26, 2009).

52 Borgwardt, 264–5.

53 Ibid., 265–67.

54 Gilman, Nils, Mandarins of the Future: Modernization Theory in Cold War America (Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007). Engerman, David C., Latham, Michael E., Haefele, Mark H., and Gilman, Nils, eds., Staging Growth: Modernization, Development, and the Global Cold War (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003).

55 “Short History of the Commission on the Status of Women,” (accessed April 27, 2009), 7–10. Fraser, Arvonne S., “Becoming Human,” in Women, Gender, and Human Rights: A Global Perspective, ed. Agosin, Marjorie (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001), 4559.

56 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, (accessed April 27, 2009).

57 Sally Engle Merry, “Women, Violence, and Human Rights,” in Women, Gender, and Human Rights, ed. Agosin, 86–88.

58 Ibid., 84.

59 Scott, Joan, Only Paradoxes to Offer: French Feminists and the Rights of Man (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997), 914.

60 Seidman, Gay, “Gendered Citizenship: South Africa's Democratic Transition and the Construction of a Gendered State,” Gender & Society 13, no. 3 (June 1999): 287307.

61 Anika Keinz, “The Gender of Democracy and Europeanization,” paper from conference on Utopia, Human Rights and Gender, Vienna, December 2007; and Keinz, Anika, “European Desires and National Bedrooms? Negotiating ‘Normalcy’ in Postsocialist Poland,” Central European History 44, no. 1 (2011), 92117.

62 Grewal, Inderpal, Transnational America: Feminisms, Diasporas, Neoliberalisms (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005), 17, 29–30.

63 For a recent example of this, see Kristof, Nicolas D. and WuDunn, Sheryl, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Knopf, 2009).

64 Grewal, Transnational America, 29–30, 129–30, 153. Chandra Mohanty makes many of the same points; Chandra Talpade Mohanty, “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses,” boundary 2, vol. 12/13 (Spring-Autumn 1984): 333–58.

65 Sally Engle Merry, “Measuring the World: Indicators, Human Rights, and Global Governance,” paper presented at New York University Institute for Public Knowledge, May 2009.

66 Merry, “Women, Violence, and Human Rights,” 94.

67 Temma Kaplan, “Women's Rights as Human Rights: Women as Agents of Social Change,” in Women, Gender, and Human Rights, ed. Agosin, 192.

68 For differing interpretations of these transformations, see Brenner, Robert, The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy (London: Verso, 2003); Friedman, Thomas, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000); Friedman, Thomas, The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2006); and Stiglitz, Joseph E., Globalization and its Discontents (New York: Norton, 2002).

69 Judt, Tony, “The Wrecking Ball of Innovation,” New York Review of Books (Dec. 6, 2007).

70 As Daniel Rodgers notes in his forthcoming book, even though Thatcher is remembered for denying the existence of society, she did in fact talk about ways to reform society. Rodgers, Daniel T., Age of Fracture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, forthcoming 2011).

71 Amadae, S. M., Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003).

72 Amazon has 38,000 listings for “social capital” and more than 35,000 for “human capital.” If one googles either term, the citations number in the millions.

73 Kabeer, Naila, Reversed Realities: Gender Hierarchies in Development Thought (London: Verso, 1994).

74 Einhorn, Cinderella. Haney, Lynn, “‘But We are Still Mothers’: Gender, the State, and the Construction of Need in Postsocialist Hungary,” in Uncertain Transitions: Ethnographies of Change in the Postsocialist World, ed. Burawoy, Michael and Verdery, Katherine (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 1999), 151–87.

75 Counts, Alex, Give Us Credit (New York: Times Books/Random House, 1996).

76 As one example of critical assessments of microcredit, see Rankin, Katharine N., “Governing Development: Neoliberalism, Microcredit, and Rational Economic Woman,” Economy and Society 30, no. 1 (February 2001): 1837.

77 Irving Kristol, “The Two Welfare States,” (accessed January 6, 2010). A version of this appeared in the Wall Street Journal, October 19, 2000.

78 Polanyi, Karl, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of our Time (Boston: Beacon, 2001), 3.

79 Gray cited in Harvey, David, Spaces of Hope (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2000), 68.

80 Katznelson, Ira, When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America (New York: Norton, 2006). Linda Gordon, “The New Deal Was a Good Idea, We Should Try It,” talk delivered at Harvard University, April 15, 2009.

81 Sen, Amartya, Development as Freedom (New York: Anchor, 2000), 31, 74. See also Nussbaum, Martha, Women and Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

I would like to thank Petra Goedde, Linda Gordon, Tom Lekan, Dorothy Noyes, Jocelyn Olcott, Helmut Reimitz, Dan Rodgers, and Pamela Smith for helpful comments.


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