Gail Bederman discusses the discourse of civilization in her book, Manliness and Civilization, and cites several examples from the late 19th and early 20th century. Bederman’s main theme in this book is the interrelated nature of race and sex in power relations and the resulting bias of this nature in discourse. A work of similar tenor is Richard Slotkin’s analysis of myth and story telling, The Fatal Environment. The tenets of mythmaking and the powers that make myths as explained by Slotkin can be applied to Bederman’s work on racial and sexual identity.
Bederman makes reference to Slotkin when she speaks about Theodore Roosevelt and his writing of The Winning of the West. The author refers to an article by Slotkin that speaks to how white authors writing about the West made whites sound at once superior to Native Americans in civilization and equals in the basic characteristics of manliness. This association by Bederman is apropos of the topic she was discussing, but the article mentioned earlier provides a better basis of comparison with all of the characters in this analysis.
Slotkin talks first about what defines culture. The definition given by Slotkin for culture is something “formed by perceptions, intentions, and acts…a form of production requiring energy and time, involving human choices and social consequences…and connecting the producer with the network of relationships that constitute his society.” Following this definition, it would seem that if culture relies on perceptions, intentions, and acts, then the individuals described by figures studied not only applied past “events” to the present, but they break down the lines of myth and history to create an immediate relationship between the primitive and the modern.
The final point of convergence between Slotkin and Bederman is that the victorious make the myths and dictate discourse in society. G. Stanley Hall was a teacher and philosopher of education, coming from a background of affluence that placed him in a position to dictate the course of education. Theodore Roosevelt lived a privileged life and was given the comforts to change himself from a weak child to a man of great convictions and force. Even those who came from meager backgrounds, such as Ida B. Wells and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, were able to succeed in breaking through to become masters of discourse by daring to question white male supremacy. Despite where these characters came from, they were all in positions during their adult lives to dictate the practices and structures of American society. All had become victorious over their various backgrounds and impediments and put themselves in a position to make myths in their time that led to issues of social identity in our time.