Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Review: Women of the Klan

Women of the Klan, by Kathleen Blee, tells the story of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan, an organization which existed in concert to the 1920s KKK. It's a delicate tale to tell, of course, given the KKK's history of racism, antisemitism, and violence, but Blee does it relatively well.

Blee asks what place women have in right-wing movements like the KKK. She presents the KKK of the 1920s as full of contradictions. The men's Klan used women as symbols, showing them as potential victims in order to bring men to their cause. On the other hand, the women who joined the KKK were often in some respects progressive and feminist. Women used their role in the KKK to increase their political power in the early days of women's suffrage.

The book suffers from lack of extant information. The KKK was shrouded in secrecy, and in the years after its heyday many of the original members have died or ceased to remember accurately. I don't think Blee made the best use even of the information she had. She conducted oral interviews, but quotes from these were infrequent. I thought she could have made more use of particular women's experiences, especially those who were average members and not leaders. The book seemed to go in circles, repeating things already said in a different way. It was worth writing, certainly, and worth reading, but it didn't live up to expectations, I'm afraid.

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