Hearing the Voices of Jonestown

By Mary McCormick Maaga | Go to book overview

3
The Triple Erasure of Women in the Leadership of Peoples Temple

The women of Peoples Temple, particularly the women in leadership, have been triply erased in the narratives about Jonestown, whether scholarly or popular.1 First, "cult" members as a whole, both male and female, have been presented as "brainwashed" victims of a fraudulent enterprise orchestrated by an "insane" leader. This has been particularly the case in the popular literature on Jonestown, but a perceptible thread of it runs throughout the scholarly material as well. Second, within the treatments of new religions in Western culture as a whole, wherever male charismatic leaders have predominated, female followers have been portrayed as sexually exploited and psychologically manipulated at the hands of the cult leader. This characterization is as true of the scholarly works as of the popular. Third, the fact that the movement ended in suicide has erased the lives that preceded that cataclysmic act, whether male or female.2

The erasure of the women of Peoples Temple has occurred because the practice of the sociology of new religious movements has created interpretive frameworks in which their experience simply has not fit. As a result the data about their experience in Peoples Temple has passed "beyond what could be conceptualized in the established forms,

____________________
1
I have put quotation marks around terms such as "cult," "brainwashed," "insane," and "normal" at first mention to indicate that these labels are ideologically determined rather than scientifically established.
2
For the first and second examples of erasure, see this chapter and chapter 4. I address the third example briefly at the close of this chapter, then reengage it in chapter 7 where I explore a new interpretation of the suicides based on the restoration of the people involved.

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Hearing the Voices of Jonestown
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Foreword ix
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xvii
  • Introduction xix
  • 1 - Who Were the Members of Peoples Temple? 1
  • 2 - Deconstructing Jonestown 14
  • 3 - The Triple Erasure of Women in the Leadership of Peoples Temple 32
  • 4 - Restoration of Women's Power in Peoples Temple 55
  • 5 - Three Groups in One 74
  • 6 - From Jones the Person to Jonestown the Community 87
  • 7 - Freedom and Loyalty, a Deadly Potion 114
  • 8 - Conclusion 136
  • Appendix A - Jonestown Demographics 145
  • Appendix B - Suicide Tape Transcript 147
  • Appendix C - A Witness to Tragedy and Resurrection 165
  • References 169
  • Index 175
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