Critical disinformation studies, one theoretical sector in the emerging field of disinformation, looks at the various forms of false and misleading content, generally in the context of race. Many studies already demonstrate the harmful impact disinformation can have on the perpetuation of racist ideology, however, the gendered dimensions of disinformation are not explored as much. This paper uses the theories of critical disinformation to investigate how gender and race intersect in the eugenics movement, which was a pivotal moment in American history. The trial of Ann Cooper Hewitt, a widely discussed and influential court case in the 1930s, provides a case study that highlights how disinformation used against women and racial minorities connect, expanding this critical disinformation discourse and its implications. Middle-class, white Americans feared that they would lose their white dominance as immigrants and minorities continued to have children, and many worried that women were becoming too sexualized and radical. Thus, eugenics ideals, despite being proven scientifically false, became a tool to control the female population and maintain white supremacy. Specifically, when the doctors lied about Hewitt’s intelligence, her nonconsensual sterilization set the precedent for involuntary sterilization to be legal and encouraged. This situation not only breaks down how gender disinformation can take form, but it illustrates the importance of understanding intent in disinformation, identifying how these intersections can help prove this important component. My historical analysis of Ann Cooper Hewitt’s trial reveals the intentional racist and misogynist harm that intersectional analysis of disinformation can lay bare.
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Richter, Lia, "The Ann Cooper Hewitt Trial: Eugenics as a Tool for Intersectional Disinformation" (2022). Research Days Posters 2022. 96.