Jessica Frazier wasn’t always a historian. Originally trained as an actuary with degrees in math and Spanish, it wasn’t until years later that she developed an interest in history. While living in Chicago, Frazier wanted to use her Spanish fluency to serve women populations, and began volunteering for the National Organization for Women and Mujeres Latinas en Acción. Realizing that she wanted a career would allow her to combine her passion for service with her strong analytical mind, she spoke to her former philosophy professor who suggested history, political science or sociology. “I had been reading women’s history books without realizing it, and my professor suggested a few more women’s history books for me to read, and I liked them – so I decided history was the way to go,” Frazier explains.
“Now,” she says, “I often complain that people aren’t looking at the historical context of an issue,” she says. “I think it’s important to show people that there is no one masculinity or femininity, no one version of manhood or womanhood. No monolithic category of ‘woman’ exists — something people may agree with, but in practice, often ignore.”
Frazier’s work reflects this interest in the plurality of women’s histories often left in silence. “I specifically research U.S. women who traveled to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and I compare and contrast their experiences and the language they chose to describe those experiences,” she explains. By examining the wartime actions of American women, their experiences with war, and their desire for peace, Frazier continues to defend her claim that there is no one definition of womanhood or femininity – and that the types of activism various women pursued throughout the war changed the ways in which they spoke of war itself.
Some used the language of motherhood to promote peace, others talked of imperialism and the need to put an end to American nationalism abroad. And what of the North Vietnamese women themselves? “In Vietnamese culture, there is no dichotomy between being a warrior and being a mother . . . interestingly, American women still chose to portray Vietnamese women as either warriors or mothers, but not both,” and distinctions and choices in language are important, says Frazier. “For one, it points out that there was no one definition of womanhood even when women were purposefully working together as ‘women’ across national, racial and ethnic boundaries for a common cause (to end the Vietnam War).”
She points out a conference that took place in Canada in 1971 that included Vietnamese, Laotian, Canadian and U.S. women. “They came together under the banner of ‘sisterhood,’ but their various definitions of womanhood caused conflict at the conference, and, most interestingly to me, meant that women left the conference with various versions of the Southeast Asian women’s life stories . . . following this conference, women highlighted certain aspects of the Southeast Asian women’s stories that fit best with their own definitions of womanhood,” Frazier says.
At Binghamton, Frazier describes her colleagues in the History Department as most helpful. “I have found my committee members, and particularly my advisor, to be very supportive and challenging. They push me to do better work, and want me to succeed,” she says. “They take the time to read and comment on conference papers, abstracts and chapters so that I can learn how to be a professional historian.”
And it’s not just Binghamton faculty who have impacted her journey. Frazier also praises the “supportive network of women’s historians who are classmates. We vet each other’s work, we share information . There’s a group of us going on the job market, and we talk to each other about what we need to do to prepare for it.”
Frazier hopes to become a professor so she can teach and continue to explore her research.
Last Updated: 1/14/13