Ms. Blee, 48, first became interested in hate groups nearly 20 years ago, when she discovered a Klan pamphlet from the 1920's advocating women's suffrage. She also found pamphlets advocating eight-hour days for mothers and the use of maiden names by married women. "I thought, This violates all my sense of historical categories," Ms. Blee said. "The role of women in the Klan has been overlooked. They were not incidental, but the glue that held it together."
So she decided to write a book focusing on Indiana, where she grew up and where nearly a quarter-million Klan women lived during the 1920's. In old age homes, she found survivors. They hadn't changed their views. Interviewing them was "hateful," she said, adding, "They assumed because I was white I would agree."
Some Klan women were suffragettes, Ms. Blee discovered, because they believed that the women's vote would counteract votes of African-American men. Some joined because of the temperance movement. "They would say: 'Drink is ruining the family. Who is to blame for that? Catholics,' " said Ms. Blee, who was raised in a Roman Catholic family in Fort Wayne. Catholics as well as blacks, she noted, were targets of the early Klan. (Ms. Blee asked that no other details of her personal life be published because of the dangers of her work.)
Although women did not participate in lynchings, they spread rumors against Jewish store owners and Catholic teachers to drive them from communities. Women also sustained the rituals necessary to cement membership, Klan weddings, christenings, cookbooks, parallel Little Leagues...
"Thanks to Kathleen M. Blee's superb scholarship in Women of the Klan I must now live with the fact that the Klan contained 'all the better people': businessmen, physicians, judges, social workers—even Quakers, political reformers and (this is the truly discomforting part) feminists. . . . Women of the Klan stands before us as carefully garnered, irrefutable evidence that women are capable of asserting their gender rights in the most noisome settings."—Barbara Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Times
Ignorant. Brutal. Male. One of these stereotypes of the Ku Klux Klan offer a misleading picture. In Women of the Klan, sociologist Kathleen Blee unveils an accurate portrait of a racist movement that appealed to ordinary people throughout the country. In so doing, she dismantles the popular notion that politically involved women are always inspired by pacifism, equality, and justice.
"All the better people," a former Klanswoman assures us, were in the Klan. During the 1920s, perhaps half a million white native-born Protestant women joined the Women's Ku Klux Klan (WKKK). Like their male counterparts, Klanswomen held reactionary views on race, nationality, and religion. But their perspectives on gender roles were often progressive. The Klan publicly asserted that a women's order could safeguard women's suffrage and expand their other legal rights. Privately the WKKK was working to preserve white Protestant supremacy.
Blee draws from extensive archival research and interviews with former Klan members and victims to underscore the complexity of extremist right-wing political movements. Issues of women's rights, she argues, do not fit comfortably into the standard dichotomies of "progressive" and "reactionary." These need to be replaced by a more complete understanding of how gender politics are related to the politics of race, religion, and class.
In the 1920s, as many as half a million women joined the ladies' auxiliary of the KKK (the WKKK). Were they just aping their husbands or were there specific motivations that brought women to an organization notorious for rough-neck violence? Well, sexual fears may indeed have played a role. The fraudulent portrayal of ex-slaves assaulting white women in the vile racist movie, Birth of a Nation, is credited with stimulating the resurgence of the Klan. Women had received the vote nationally only in 1918, on a wave of optimism that their votes would naturally fall on the side of justice, decency, and pacifism. ..
Of course, also too, there are always those who are deeply, hilariously unclear on the concept:
In the [Men's Nads Daily] article, [“Feminism, the WKKK, and the Gender-Lynching of Michael Jackson”], David Usher claims that “Feminism as we know it is the direct ideological and political descendant of the Women’s Ku Klux Klan (WKKK).” When I read this, I didn’t know whether I should burst out in laughter or throw my laptop across the room. He continues with a long list of “connections” between the WKKK and the feminist movement, and claims that feminists left the KKK, simply omitted the word “black” from its ideology and replaced it with “men.”
Usher also manages to insist that, “The greatest problem faced by blacks is not racism itself. Sexism and discrimination against the black male, both in family and society, is the greatest single factor keeping blacks a desperate underclass.” Wow.
To back this up, he then throws Michael Jackson’s trial into the mix, and how the feminist “lynch mob” is actually responsible for the charges against him:
“So the new WKKK set out to perform a lawyerly lynching of Michael Jackson. Every mob motive is present. He is a male. He is very rich, eccentric, and black too. It was an irresistible invitation to misuse false allegations of sexual improprieties, for profit and political gain.”...
Seriously, though, Martian Rights Advocates aside, it's not that surprising. Ever read "Gone With the Wind?" I mean the movie's a subject in itself, but the book is...interesting. On the one hand, Margaret Mitchell writes about Scarlett O'Hara in this way...I don't have the book in front of me, but it's full of authorial asides like, "No one was there to tell her that her own personality, frighteningly vital as it was, was more attractive than the artifice..." something like that. You know, she was a strong woman chafing under the hidebound rules of an extremely sexist and rigid society who didn't let (white, duh) women be full humans; this is actually the point of the whole damn book, or one of them.
The other of course, being, goddam Yankees fucking up a perfectly good system, sending good families to ruin and privation and giving THEM ideas. And yes, there's a bit where one of the husbands rides out with the Klan; this is considered a good thing; because, see, while Scarlett was just mostly going along to get along, black people acted the way they did because, well, that was just TRUE about their inherent nature, see...
"They were like children," I believe O'Hara muses in a fury at the ignorant Yankee woman who was mean about one of her beloved former (and of course loyal) servants, and would prefer a "good Irish girl" to nanny her children because, you know, she doesn't KNOW -them- like Scarlett (and Mitchell, obviously) does...