|Women and Deafness|
From the Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
In reading Women and Deafness: Double Visions, I was struck with the seamless way in which the editors presented scholarly work that portrays Deaf women within the historical evolution of Deaf culture. The book is divided into three parts in which specific Deaf women are studied from differing professional perspectives, such as sociology, ethnography, literature, the arts, history, and education.
The first part focuses on Helen Keller’s position and her role as an advocate for Deaf people and other women’s roles in Deaf organizations, in education of Deaf children, and in the general American workforce. It was a very interesting and enlightening view on Helen Keller’s role as a Deaf woman—one that I had never given much thought toward until after reading this section. It also addresses how political, educational, and societal treatments of disabilities affected Deaf women’s place in society.
The second part was particularly fascinating to me because it provides a historical and social perspective on Deaf women’s role within the oralist movement in deaf education. This section also explores contributions of single hearing women to the trends in early teaching of Deaf students. There is a touching chapter that tells about a relationship between a Deaf daughter and her hearing mother. Some things have changed and some things have not.
In the last section, the reader is treated with a glimpse into Deaf women’s thoughts on how they deal with dichotomies of public–private, Deaf–hearing, religious–secular worlds. It shares Deaf women’s definitions of gender, feminism, sex, and patriarchy in ASL and English. I was fascinated by the stories of the two Deaf sisters and how they were able to work within the male dominated field of photography as an expression in art as well as a source of income. The way filmmakers incorporated the stereotype of Deaf/mute women in film is also interesting.
A side benefit of reading this book was learning the history and development of oralism, manualism, and trends in educational philosophy of Deaf children. Within these historical, sociological, and educational perspectives, the roles of hearing mothers and hearing teachers of Deaf children were explored. For each section, the editors provided an introduction that establishes the framework for the reader. They also included some questions to keep in mind while reading each chapter. Because the topics are approached from interdisciplinary perspectives, I found myself losing sight of the overall message of that particular section. I needed to go back to the introduction after reading it to pull it all together in my mind.
Some chapters were more difficult to read than others, but I always found new information and perspectives that gave me pause to think of myself or my friends and colleagues who are women and Deaf. I asked myself several times in reading the book, where would we have fit in the past and how will our existence, roles, and contributions as Deaf women in the present impact the future placement of Deaf women in society, education, the arts, and sciences? It is not a book to read in one sitting. However, each chapter can stand alone. Women and Deafness: Double Visions can quite effectively be used as text for several areas of study. I highly recommend it for Women’s Studies and Deaf Culture Studies as well as Educational and Sociological Studies. This book is for all people interested in where society came from and where we are headed in this world.
Brenda Jo Brueggemann is a professor in the Department of English at the University of Louisville.
Susan Burch is an associate professor of American Studies with the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity at Middlebury College.
Print Edition: ISBN 978-1-56368-617-7, 6 x 9 paperback, 312 pages, photographs, sign illustrations, 4 tables, 19 figures
E-Book: ISBN 978-1-56368-382-4
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