With a title alluding to the complicated past of gender and sex, Mary P. Ryan’s Mysteries of Sex: Tracing Women and Men through American History gives us a thoughtful and thorough examination of the long debated battle over the differences between men and women. The question of how the dividing line between male and female is drawn—and repeatedly redrawn—over the course of history is still at the forefront of gender issues, and Ryan attempts to lay out practical guidelines for the reader in order to navigate through the many historical possibilities of what makes a man a man, or a woman a woman–or better yet, how to look at them as interconnected, and not independent entities.
Mary Ryan explains the issues of sex and the historical meaning of sexual identity that she discusses in her book this way:
The pursuit of these questions takes the reader over some five hundred years of American History, from the sixteenth century to the twenty-first. Each of the book’s seven chapters poses another mystery, set in another moment in time. The story begins when Europeans and American Indians first encountered one another, producing mutual bewilderment about alien ways of practicing manhood and womanhood. It concludes late in the twentieth century when another wave of immigration into North America once again dispelled belief that there was one cross-cultural, transnational meaning of male and female.
Read this week’s cover interview with Ryan over at ROROTOKO.