Conversations on Europe. "Rape Hysteria and the Sexual Economy of Race: French Accusations of Sexual Assault against African-American G.I.s, 1944-46."


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  • Speaker: Mary Louise Roberts, professor of history, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  • Host Department: Center for European Studies
  • Date: 02/21/2013
  • Time: 4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

  • Location: 1636 International Institute/SSWB, 1080 S. University.

  • Mary Roberts
  • Description:

    In October 1944, the Army Chief of Police presented a list of crimes committed by G.I.s in France since the landings the previous June. At the top of the list was the offense of rape. According to the Chief’s statistics, 152 rapes had been committed by American soldiers in France; of these 139 were supposedly perpetrated by “colored” soldiers. “When we consider that only approximately 10% of the troops on the continent are colored,” commented the Chief, “the above figures are astounding.” In this way the Chief pointed to the disproportionate number of black soldiers convicted of sexual assault in U.S. military courts. Many more black soldiers were not only accused but also found guilty of rape than were white men. In the years 1944 and 1945, twenty-one public executions by hanging were carried out in France as a result of rape charges. Among the men who met their death by hanging, almost all were African-American soldiers. Why were so many rape charges aimed at African-American soldiers? How did rape become a “Negro” crime in France? And why were so many more black soldiers than whites executed for the crime of rape? This talk will explore how the French and the Americans became deadly allies in racism, sending innocent men to their death.

    Mary Louise Roberts is professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a senior research fellow at the Institute for Research in the Humanities. She is the author of Foreign Affairs: Sex, Power and American G.I.s in France, 1944-1946 (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming 2013); Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-siècle France (University of Chicago, 2002); and Civilization without Sexes: Reconstructing Gender in Postwar France 1917-1927 (University of Chicago, 1994). Roberts’ research has been funded by a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship; a membership at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; and grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Social Science Research Council. Her first book, Civilization without Sexes, won the Joan Kelly Memorial Prize given by the American Historical Association for the Best Book in Women's History, 1994. Roberts has received six teaching awards, including the university-wide Walter J. Gore Award for Excellence in Teaching at Stanford University in 1999. In March 2012, she co-edited with Paul Friedland a special issue of French Historical Studies on the topic of “Theorized History.” Her work has also recently appeared in the American Historical Review, French Politics, Culture & Society, l’Histoire, Entreprises et histoires, and Le Mouvement social.

    Part of the LSA Theme Semester “Understanding Race.”

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