memoir; motherhood; reproduction; feminist theory; gender; sexual abuse; domestic violence


How have conceptions of Amish womanhood changed over time? In this article, I show that while early scholars offered only a rudimentary look at Amish women’s lives, current research is expanding and expounding upon this question. To begin, I survey early Amish studies literature, demonstrating that women’s lives rarely featured in these analyses. More recent scholarship demonstrates that when women’s lives take center stage, a fuller appreciation of the shape of women’s lives emerges. Specifically, I demonstrate that a simplified rendering not only masks the role women play but also obfuscates important aspects of Amish gender norms. I then turn to the voices of excommunicated Amish women and, through analysis of their recently published memoirs, explore how the norms of Amish womanhood both allow for and foreclose upon certain aspects of their lives. These memoirs offer an in-depth analysis of the experiences of domesticity and motherhood. I conclude that, in these voices, we can identify social features and gender norms—including resilience and stoicism—that both allow for a woman’s deep investment in reproduction, childbirth, and motherhood and, at the same time, put a woman at risk for domestic violence and sexual abuse. Recognizing that these are not mutually exclusive features of Amish life but are in fact part and parcel of the same set of gender norms suggests that we are merely at the starting point. I conclude with a call for plain Anabaptist research to continue to draw upon the innovative work happening in feminist theory and the social sciences to further inform how women shape—and are shaped by—gender norms. [Abstract by author.]



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