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Gender on Ice

American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions

1993
Author:

Lisa Bloom

Gender on Ice

Bloom focuses on the conquest of the North Pole as she reveals how popular print and visual media defined and shaped American national ideologies from the early twentieth century to the present.

Bloom focuses on the conquest of the North Pole as she reveals how popular print and visual media defined and shaped American national ideologies from the early twentieth century to the present.

Bloom’s beautifully written and incisively argued book works with a wealth of cultural artifacts and historical narratives to explore its own polar axis: gendered and racially marked constructions of American national identity. Polar exploration turns out to be a very effective technology for making specific kinds of men. Imperialism has never before been so compellingly put on ice.

Donna Haraway, History of Consciousness Board, UCSC

Bloom focuses on the conquest of the North Pole as she reveals how popular print and visual media defined and shaped American national ideologies from the early twentieth century to the present.

Gender on Ice

Lisa Bloom is currently a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and has taught art history at the University of California. She has written and lectured on the intersections between gender, technology, travel, colonialism, and visual culture.

Gender on Ice

Bloom’s beautifully written and incisively argued book works with a wealth of cultural artifacts and historical narratives to explore its own polar axis: gendered and racially marked constructions of American national identity. Polar exploration turns out to be a very effective technology for making specific kinds of men. Imperialism has never before been so compellingly put on ice.

Donna Haraway, History of Consciousness Board, UCSC

Lisa Bloom's fascinating account of the polar expeditions of Peary and Scott unpacks the complex interplay of ideologies of race, gender, and nationalism as they fueled both the actual expeditions and their subsequent representations. In demystifying the heroic myths of Peary's ‘discovery’ of the North Pole, and the attendant elision of Matthew Henson—the African American codiscoverer—Bloom dissects the operations of race as they functioned in early twentieth-century up through the present. As a critical, revisionary account of a particular discourse of exploration and discovery, Gender on Ice is notable for its attention to the articulation of a model that might be termed triumphalist masculinity. Bound up, as this model is, to historical forms of imperialism, nationalism, and racism, Bloom demonstrates the nature of the ideological stakes that attended the exploration of the polar regions. Focusing both on men who embodied these masculinist fantasies of discovery and conquest and the institution-principally the National Geographic Society and its journal-that supported these endeavors, Bloom's study reminds us, importantly, of the ways that putatively scientific enterprises are marked and formed by relations of power and domination.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau

In Gender on Ice, Bloom takes what might seem very localized subject and shows how it opens up to all central questions today in cultural studies around gender, nationhood, the politics of imperialism, race, male homosocial behavior, and sociality of science. Gender of Ice has an eloquence and elegance that is positively refreshing and the prose is stylish, engaging, an direct.

Dana Polan, University of Pittsburgh

Bloom makes a good case for her intriguing central thesis, that both Robert Peary and Robert Falcon Scott rendered accounts of their respective polar expeditions in terms that inflated the heroism of their deeds and exemplified 'the particular imperial and masculinist ideologies that each characterized.' Of the two, only Peary receives extended scrutiny as Bloom examines his unwillingness to share the glory with Matthew Henson (the black explorer who accompanied him); the question of whether or not he actually reached the North Pole; and his relationship with the National Geographic Society, which provided funding for his venture and promoted the myth of Peary as white male hero. Also interesting, but less effectively integrated, is Bloom’s discussion of National Geographic magazine’s 'colonial discourse of women and development.' Although the author offers many astute observations, the text is marred by her own prejudices, which keep her from recognizing that women can be exploitive colonialists and allow her to see Peary as 'simply incompetent' in failing to reach the Pole while not tagging Henson—who apparently deserves credit but not blame—in the same way. Bloom is a Mellon postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

Publishers Weekly

Gender Once Ice is not a book about women, but a feminist critique of a quintessentially Euro-American male activity: turn of the century polar exploration. It is part of a recent and long-overdue effort among revisionist scholars to rewrite the old sexist and racist histories of exploration, travel and discovery. Despite the book’s subtitle, American Ideologies of Polar Expeditions, the content is actually more wide-ranging. Lisa Bloom retraces the expedition accounts of the American Robert E. Peary in the Arctic, with secondary analyses of narratives by Peary’s African American aide and co-explorer, Robert Henson; his American competitor, Frederick Cook; and the Englishman Robert Scott in the Antarctic. (Scott’s Norwegian nemesis, South Pole discoverer Roald Amundsen, is only briefly mentioned.) Bloom’s retelling of these polar expeditions will seem familiar enough to aficionados of exploration narratives, but she analyzes the texts from the critical perspective of social theory. Nobody comes off well. . . . A noteworthy effort to correct the gender biases and naive assumptions of the early generations of Arctic histories.

Women’s Review of Books

Bloom applies a range of theoretical approaches to the study of American and British interest in polar exploration. She illustrates how geographical exploration captures, and was a means of validating, the contemporary images of masculinity. Further, she applies theories of nationalism, race, and gender to the public and institutional interest that surrounded such endeavors.

Choice

In Gender on Ice, Lisa Bloom has found such a cultural chronicle in the American era of heroic polar exploration. This book offers an alternative account of history of polar exploration through a textual exegesis of gender, race and class, and nationalism.

Polar Record

This book deserves to be added to the steadily developing body of substantive analysis devoted to investigating the phenomena associated with travel and tourism.

Annals of Tourism Review

Bloom graphically shows how gendered discourses are also racialized and sexualized. Bloom addresses the masculinist production of knowledge in her fascinating study of polar expeditions and American national identity.

NWSA Journal

Bloom’s real interest, in fact, seems to be the Society and the cultural ‘text’ it represents, not polar exploration per se. Bloom’s setting polar exploration in context, however, is a welcome corrective to the self-aggrandizement of much exploration literature. Gender on Ice contributes to the growing interest in constructing and writing ‘alternative’ histories of travel and exploration, and in explaining the relationship of these to imperialism, nationalism, colonialism and the globalization of Euro-American masculine standards and values. One of the few feminist, cultural critiques available on polar exploration.

The Ecologist

Rich, evocative, and well documented.

Signs

Offer stimulating, sometimes over-long insights into the cultural background and decision-making of what, as they reveal, has become a national institution.

Nature

Gender on Ice is a disturbing and probing examination of the American discursive formation of heroism as it was constructed by Robert Peary and the National Geographic magazine. Peary represented masculinist and nationalist ideologies that were exploited and validated by the National Geographic at a crucial point in its development and that once the investment in Peary was made it could not be abandoned or discredited without diminishing the scientific credibility, mythological power, and economic success of the magazine.

Books in Review

The book itself provides a refreshing view of polar exploration and it is written in an elegant manner. The writer is to congratulated on her approach.

Environment and Planning