Amazons in America uncovers the rich tradition of matriarchal popular culture in the United States. Beginning with anthropological studies from the late nineteenth century, which theorized a universal prehistoric past in which women ruled, cultural historian Keira V. Williams explores how representations of matriarchies, or women-centered societies, reveal changing ideas of gender and power over the course of the twentieth century and into the present day.
She examines a deep archive of cultural texts, both familiar and obscure, including L. Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz series (1900–1920), sociological fiction from the Progressive era like Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s utopian novel Herland (1915), the original 1940s Wonder Woman comics, mid-century television shows about harmonious nuclear families that calmed fears of the so-called “suburban matriarchy,” and feminist science fiction novels from the 1970s that invented matriarchal prehistoric and futuristic societies.
Popular twenty-first century works like Tyler Perry’s Madea franchise and DC Comics/Warner Bros.’ globally successful Wonder Woman film attest to the ongoing presence of matriarchal ideas and their capacity for combating patriarchy and white nationalism with visions of rebellion and liberation. Amazons in America shows how fictional matriarchies—produced for specific audiences in successive eras and across multiple media—constitute prescriptive, solution-oriented thought experiments directed at contemporary social issues.
More about the book
Keira V. Williams, Amazons in America: Matriarchs, Utopians, and Wonder Women in U.S. Popular Culture (LSU Press, 2019). Hardcover.
About the author
Keira V. Williams is lecturer in the School of History, Anthropology, Philosophy, and Politics at Queen’s University Belfast. 2015 Dibner Library Residential Scholar at the Smithsonian Institution and 2015 Fellow at the Institute for Inclusive Excellence at Texas Tech University, she is also the author of Gendered Politics in the Modern South: The Susan Smith Case and the Rise of a New Sexism.