Book Report: Women of the Klan

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Women Klan

Understanding the Women of the Klan

During the 1920s, the Women's Ku Klux Klan or WKKK was formed, seen alternatively as an auxiliary unit to the main Klan or as a highly integrated yet semi-independent organization with its own agenda and its own method of achieving its ends. In her book Women of the Klan, Kathleen M. Blee provides a portrait of the WKKK and its members that is at once personal and political, much like the organization itself.

Women's Rights

One of the significant differences between the WKKK and the Ku Klux Klan at large was the inclusion of women's rights in the platform fought for by the WKKK. Many men in the Klan were resistant to the idea of female members in the 1920s, seeing it as a weakening of the cause and the organization itself. The group was, after all, dedicated to the idea that certain circumstances of birth created a specific and natural hierarchy, and part of this hierarchy for many was the subjugation of women, relegating them to the place of their "wifely duties" in the home (Blee 1991). The political sphere was simply not a place where they belonged.

Given these beliefs on the part of male members of the Klan and throughout the highly male-dominated oceity that existed generally throughout the nation in the 1920s, the definition of women's rights by the members of the WKKK can perhaps most easily be obtained viewed in the negative. Women's rights meant not being seen as lesser beings, with efforts and achievements of lessened importance, and with voices that mattered. Women's rights essentially consisted of being heard, and being respected for what they accomplished. It meant recognizing that what woman brought t relationships, to families, and to society at large was not only just as important as what men brought, but was in fact essential to survival of the current way of life and indeed to the survival of the species as a whole -- largely what women's rights had meant to the larger feminist movement for decades.

Specific Rights

The women of the WKKK fought for the right to vote, the right to make financial decisions, and a general sense of equality in the political sphere -- they believed that they held opinions that were just as valuable as any man's and just as deserving of attention (Blee 1991). This last was perhaps the most salient feature of the definition of women's rights in the minds of the women of the Klan, as it applied most broadly to all aspects of their lives. Through their actions both in the traditional political sphere and through the traditional duties of women (i.e. raising children and keeping house), they saw that they were instrumental in directing the values and affairs of the day, and sought a conscious recognition of these contributions (Blee 1991).

At the same time, the WKKK saw their roles in the home -- especially that of mothering -- as a burden equal to that of men's employment, and deserving of the same types of freedoms including a certain degree of occupational mobility, limited work days and weeks, and the right to demand direct compensation for it (Blee 1991). The WKKK at once argued that women were not to be solely relegated to duties in the home -- taking care of children, cooking, cleaning, and being obedient wives -- and that when they performed these duties, it was to be see as a respected and burdensome occupation. The right to treat motherhood and wifedom as a job is perhaps difficult to define in a succinct manner, but this was a basic and central right of women according to the WKKK, and a represented a major difference between these women and their male counterparts in the larger Ku Klux Klan (Blee 1991).

The Male View

Though many if not most of the WKKK's views on the rights of women and gender equality can easily be equated to the rights pressed for by the larger feminist and suffrage movements of the day, the views of women held by the male members of the Ku Klux Klan were actually highly progressive and different from the patriarchal and chauvinistic attitudes that still pervaded much of society at this time. The men of the Klan by and large saw the elevation of women to a status of greater equality as a necessity for leading a truly Christian life according to the tenets of the Bible in their Protestant interpretation (Blee 1991). But though this equality was ostensibly supported, its form in the minds of Klansmen differed in significant ways.

One of the primary differences between the men and women of the Klan in regards to the rights and equality of women was their view of home life and women's role therein. While both agreed that some amount of economic freedom was necessary in order for women to achieve equality, and that the traditional jobs of women in the home were deserving of more respect and consideration than they typically achieved, men still glorified the tasks of motherhood and being a good wife as a holy and a social good (Blee 1991). Women saw these tasks as a significant burden, agreeing that they were necessary jobs to be done but disagreeing wholeheartedly both that they were solely "women's work" and that that they were the work of highest moral good that a woman could achieve in her lifetime (Blee 1991, pp. 49-52). The exact level and nature of women's involvement in the political realm was also a source of disagreement between the men and women of the Klan (Blee 1991).

Gender Tensions

The many points of similarity in the views of women and women's rights that were held by the WKKK and the male members of the Ku Klux Klan allowed for a fair amount of collaboration and unified efforts on this and other fronts. The differences that did exist, however, were fundamental issues to both groups, and as such these disagreements necessarily led to a certain level of tension between the WKKK and the larger Klan structure, as well as between individual members of both organizations (Blee 1991). His tension can be seen even in the initial formation of the Women's Ku Klux Klan, according to Blee (1991).

Though defending womanhood was a long-standing and fundamental principle of the Ku Klux Klan, this did not always lead to the same conclusions as were arrived at by the WKKK's push for women's rights. The WKKK was formed, actually, due to "financial opportunism and intra-Klan conflict, not concern for women's rights," with clear expectations of subordination of this group and its members to the male leadership of the larger Klan (Blee 1991, pp. 42). These men also did not expect that the inclusion of women into the larger Klan structure, whether as an auxiliary/subordinate organization or simply through the admission of female members, would diversify the message and purpose of the Klan, but rather that it would simply strengthen the perspectives and efforts already being engaged in. The inclusion of the struggle for women's rights as a part of the WKKK and possibly even in the larger Ku Klux Klan was demoralizing for many Klan members (Blee 1991).

Auxiliary or Not Auxiliary

A major tension also existed throughout the 1920s as to whether the WKKK was considered an auxiliary and subordinate organization to the larger Ku Klux Klan, or whether it was truly an independent organization. Blee (1991) investigates this issue but is unable to provide a decisive answer to the issue, largely because no decisive answer exists. For many members of the WKKK, there is no doubt that the organization was independent; it set its own agenda, held its own meetings, led recruitment and boycott efforts on its own, and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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