A groundbreaking study of how concepts of virtue and vice are used to deny American women full political membership

Suspect Citizens

Women, Virtue, and Vice in Backlash Politics

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Jocelyn M. Boryczka

"Analyzing moral discourses from the Mayflower Compact to contemporary abstinence campaigns, Jocelyn Boryczka traces raced, classed, and gendered assumptions about virtue and vice that challenge long-cherished myths concerning liberty, equality and secularism in the United States. Demonstrating how sexual divisions of labor structure moral guardianship of the family and the nation, Suspect Citizens provides a compelling account of the peculiarly American dynamics of sexual oppression, while also offering a cogent strategy to free democratic participation from perfectionist traditions incompatible with equal citizenship."
Mary Hawkesworth, Rutgers University

What drives the cycle of backlashes against women's ongoing struggle for equality, freedom, and inclusion in American politics? In her innovative and provocative book, Suspect Citizens, Jocelyn Boryczka presents a feminist conceptual history that shows how American politics have largely defined women in terms of their reproductive and socializing functions. This framework not only denies women full citizenship, but also devalues the active political engagement of all citizens who place each other and their government under suspicion.

Developing the gendered dynamics of virtue and vice, Boryczka exposes the paradox of how women are perceived as both virtuous moral guardians and vice-ridden suspect citizens capable of jeopardizing the entire nation's exceptional future. She uses wide-ranging examples from the Puritans and contemporary debates over sex education to S&M lesbian feminists and the ethics of care to show how to move beyond virtue and vice to a democratic feminist ethics.

Suspect Citizens advances a politics of collective responsibility and belonging.



Read Chapter 5 (pdf).



"Using examples from ancient, modern, and contemporary political and feminist theory and practice, Boryczka thoughtfully and critically examines the shifting moral boundaries between virtue and vice in order to understand and expose how gendered notions of morality have constructed women as suspect citizens: unequal, constrained, and excluded from full citizenship within American democracy. By adopting a conceptual histories approach that reexamines the dualism of virtue and vice in the American political script, Boryczka provides an original, powerful, and compelling argument that contemporary political and feminist theorists must engage. Her work constitutes essential reading for students of political theory, feminist theory, and anyone interested in advancing a democratic feminist ethics."
Dr. Jennifer Leigh Disney, Associate Professor of Political Science and Director of the Women's Studies Program, Winthrop University

"Boryczka addresses categories of virtue and vice that operate to render women 'suspect citizens' in the American political script.... The book contains many interesting and provocative juxtapositions. Summing Up: Highly recommended."

"Boryczka skillfully examines those intersections where women, who made an attempt at full citizenry, were chastised by the broader public and literally blamed for national upheavals and crises.... This book uses the concepts of virtue and vice to frame women’s relationship to political power offering a fresh perspective on the political landscape available to women who dare to enter the public eye.... While engaging the broad and continuing debates in philosophy, religious studies, political science, and history, this book also provides deep insight into specific turning points in the women’s movement and women’s political involvement in struggle for equality and freedom."

"Suspect Citizens is a rich conceptual history tracing the binary opposition between virtue and vice that has structured the gendered nature of citizenship in American political thought.... The book successfully weaves together contemporary political issues with their deep and direct roots in historical political ideas and debates."
New Political Science

"Throughout her analysis the author succeeds in identifying the emergence of the virtue and vice concept, its relation to other theoretical concepts and political arguments, and how the concept is used by political actors to achieve their political goals. This book is necessary reading for anyone interested in political and feminist theories."
Contemporary Sociology

"Suspect Citizens offers an extremely interesting account of the ways female morality has been constructed in American history and will interest anyone interested in feminist theory and research.... [I]ts empirical accounts are important in their own right and will be of value to feminist scholars working outside the field of ethics."
Political Studies Review

"Suspect Citizens provides an original and important contribution to contemporary political theory, especially democratic theory and feminist ethics. The author moves with ease and erudition through the history of Western political thought and American political discourse, advancing a narrative that is complex and full of unfamiliar characters and unexpected affinities."
Perspectives on Politics




Introduction: Moral Guardians but Suspect Citizens: Women, Virtue, and Vice in the Western Political Imaginary

   Defining Virtue and Vice
   Virtue and Vice in Contemporary Political Theory: Displacing Women and Politics
   Methodological Matters
   The Plan of the Book

1. Conceptual Locations: Where Virtue, Vice, and Citizenship Intersect

   Virtue and Vice in Ancient and Medieval Western Political Thought
   Modern Theoretical Groundings: Alexis de Tocqueville and Mary Wollstonecraft in America
   Suspect Citizenship: At the Intersection of Morality and Politics

2. The Religious Roots of Moral Guardianship: American Women as the Daughters of Eve and Zion

   The Puritan Point of Emergence: Infinite and Finite Virtue and Vce
   The Infinite as a Necessary Problem: Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology and Pure Lust
   Martyrs for Democracy: The Sacred, Profane, and Double Burden of Moral Responsibility

3. “Back to Virtue” Backlash Politics: Privileging Irresponsibility

   Debating Women’s Education and Moral Guardianship in the Republican Era
   Debating Contemporary Sex Education: Resurrecting the Daughters of Eve and Zion
   Scapegoats for Democracy: Trust, Blame, and Irresponsibility in American Citizenship

4. Suspect Citizenship: From Lowell Mill Girls to Lesbian Feminists and Sadomasochism

   Lowell Mill Girl Debates: The Trap of True Womanhood
   The Rebels: Weakening the Bonds of Virtue
   Lesbian Feminist S/M Debates: The Moral Bondage of Moral Guardianship
   Fantasy and Imagination in Lesbian S/M and Contemporary Feminist Ethics
   Suspect Citizens as Innovative Ideologists

5. “Ozzie and Harriet” Morality: Resetting Liberal Democracy’s Moral Compass

   The Separate Spheres Paradox: Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America
   A “Curl Back” to Virtue: Neutralizing Gender in Contemporary Morality
   Habitual Inattention to Democracy: The Power of Vice

6. The Legacy of Virtue and Vice: Mary Wollstonecraft and Contemporary Feminist Care Ethics

   Sex, Sexuality, and Suspicion in Mary Wollstonecraft’s Political Thought
   Moral Perfectionism in Feminist Care Ethics: The Problems of Infinite Virtue, Patriarchal Moral Standards, and Omitting Vice
   Parochialism: Practice and the Limits of Finite Virtues
   The Vice of Omission: Sex and Sexuality in Feminist Care Ethics

Conclusion: Beyond Virtue and Vice: Toward a Democratic Feminist Ethic

   The Frontiers of Collective Responsibility: Toward a Democratic Feminist Ethics of Belonging



About the Author(s)

Jocelyn M. Boryczka is Associate Professor of Politics at Fairfield University.

Subject Categories

Political Science and Public Policy
Women's Studies
Philosophy and Ethics



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