The evangelical mystique : conservative Protestant femininity in the United States from 1940-1970.


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This dissertation explores the prescriptive literature of conservative Protestant communities relating to womanhood from 1940-1970. It asks, “If the mainstream literature relating to domesticity in America can be viewed as describing and prescribing Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, what was the message of the evangelical mystique?” Did it differ from that of The Feminine Mystique or did it follow a similar historical narrative, transitioning from porous categories during World War II into rigid gender roles in the 1950s? In doing so, this dissertation evaluates the construction of femininity among conservative Protestants, intersecting the theory of gender history with the study of religious history. Finally, it interrogates the underlying rationale behind this rhetoric, asking whether evangelicals used more biblical, theological, or spiritual reasoning for their gender ideals than mainstream women’s magazines.This dissertation argues that the “evangelical mystique" did change between 1940 and 1970. During World War II, conservative Protestant periodicals created the ideal of "patriotic piety" which combined Democratic values with conservative morality and Christian spirituality. It focused on the influence of women in the home, as spiritual and physical nurturers, but also provided space for single women and students to pursue some traditionally male roles as a wartime exigency. "Patriotic piety" differed from the mainstream ideal of patriotic femininity. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the Evangelical Mystique became closely aligned with mainstream feminine ideals. Like secular women's magazines, conservative Protestant periodicals advocated that married women should remain within the home and exalted the role of mother as the woman's highest ideal. However, contrary to common historical assumptions (including those of Friedan herself), conservative Protestants were also discussing some of the problems associated with confining women to the role of housewife. Rhetoric surrounding femininity became less rooted in scripture and images of patriotism, and instead became centered on popular psychology. This alignment with mainstream ideals meant evangelicals were caught off guard by the emergence of second-wave feminism and the sexual revolution. As their gender norms became more secular and mainstream, evangelicals lost their distinctive voice that had been apparent during World War II.



Women. History. Evangelicalism.