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Gender Notes

History Notes > Disciplines of History - Making Historical Arguments Notes

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Gender Notes Are gender historians too interested in difference?
Is masculinity always in crisis?
How far should the history of gender be a history of the body?
Does gender history marginalize the history of women?
"In answering questions from this section candidates should discuss specific examples of historical writing. They should consider the ways in which historians select and use sources, the methodologies they have employed, and the historiographical context within which they write."




'Sex' vs 'gender' Women's history and the origins of gender history Gender History Where are we now?

Important context: Foucault, archaeologies of power. A need to deconstruct, born from the radical movements of the 60s and 70s.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Gender & Historical Knowledge 1) Women's history?
2) Category of analysis
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Laura Lee Downs on Women's History Reasons for the introduction of Women's Studies and history in the 1970s:
? determination to recover own history;
? desire to reinforce feminist politics by offering a historically grounded account of women's identity as distinct from men. "To write a history without women was to tell half the story" Key issues for Feminist Historians
? Was Women's History merely a supplement to existing narratives?
? Does the integration of new stories and perspectives demand that the analytic structures be reshaped?
? The problem of integrating the 'women's story' resulted in a challenge to the traditional boundaries of the discipline.
? For if gender identity was not a biological given but a social and

???historical creation, then the task of the historian was not one of adding women to an existing narrative whose outlines were familiar. Instead, the historians' tasks was to? Excavate the precise meanings that femininity and masculinity have carried in the past;
? Demonstrate the evolution of those meanings over time;
? Reveal the historically constructed nature of these concepts in our present world. Hence, feminist scholars were committed not merely to adding new material to the historical record, but to change the analytical structures of historical practice.
? Crucial to this was the distinction drawn between biological sex.
? Biological sex - the material and unchanging ground of one's identity, and the infinitely malleable carapace of gender, a socially constructed series of behaviours that code one as male or female, but that vary across time and space in such a way as to reveal their culturally constructed nature.
? Need to challenge the iron-clad division between biology and culture upon which the sex/gender distinction rests.
? Women and men were hence made and not born.
? Feminist scholarship became focused on the various ways that gender, understood as a socially constructed system of difference, has operated to shape social relations and understandings of self in societies past. Women's history was fast transforming into a broader history of gender relations, not withstanding fears that the turn to gender signalled the abandonment of women's history as a feminist political project. Nevertheless, Downs argues that the very move which underscored the constructed nature of male and female roles in society had already destabilised the notion of identity as an essential, natural property. In this sense, gender history was 'immanent' in the development of women's history. Feminist scholars moved increasingly towards gender as a means of locating the experiences of women in a broader context, while arguing for the gendered nature of all human experience, not simply that of women.

Consequence of the shift 1) The de-essentialising of maleness and femaleness as categories by underscoring their historical construction took those categories out of the timeless realm and returned them into their respective historical contexts. 2) The de-essentialising of 'women' as a category served an important political goal, by underscoring the historical and changeable content of the category 'woman' as it is deployed in politics and social policy. 3) Was hoped that the turn to gender would give feminist scholarship greater influence on the discipline of history. 1) It was clear that women's history had failed to transform the

epistemological bases of the historical discipline. 2) Women's history was being researched and taught alongside standard narratives without affecting them in any fundamental way. 3) The only way to break out of this was to cease focusing exclusively on women and follow instead the mutual construction of masculinities and femininities as they have evolved over time. Downs argues that this has resulted ina) a broader conceptual vision of the social distinction of the sexes; a less-militantly woman-centred concept b) Feminist politics and the demands of scholarship became intertwined in the intellectual history of the discipline, even as its practitioners moved from the particulars of women's history to a more universal history of gender, understood as a fundamental aspect of social being and social order. From women's history to gender history.publication of Davidoff and Hall's 'Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850', marked a decisive moment in the turn to gender history. o The authors argue that the formation of the provincial middle classes in the fin de siecle 19th century England was a process whose roots lie in the progressive separation of public (male) space from the private and female-dominated realm of the middle-class home. o They attempt to analyse the construction of gendered identities within a particular society, with identity conceived as the link between individual psychology and the larger collectivity. o It contributed not only to the diffusion of gender as a tool of historical analysis, but also to the turn in the late 1980s toward subjectivity as an object of historical study.The idea of separate male and female spheres was far from new in 1987 as feminist scholars had long deployed the model as a description of middle-class organisation. What was new was their ambition to lay bare and analyse the gendered foundations of large social processes like class formation. o structure of binary-classification allowed feminist researchers to move beyond social history to integrate women and gender into more political histories, notably studies of the gendered contours of social and political citizenship. o Men's own emotional involvement, and women's continued importance as economic agents. o Evangelicalism critical here. We can trace the emergence of a middle-class identity from 1780 onwards, centred around a set of ideas and religious imperative created by evangelicalism, rooted in distinct understandings of gender roles, understandings which would become hegemonic.

o o'Common sense' - obscures politics. Have to remember that this was not an absolute state of affairs. Tensions and contradictions within individual households were pervasive.

Enlightenment, political 'citizenship' tied to seemingly irrefutable power signifiers of gender. Even Wollstoncraft could not entirely escape from the notion of separate male and female spheres: 'Man must necessarily fulfil the duties of a citizen or be despised...while he was employed in any of the departments of civil life, his wife, also an active citizen, should be equally intent to manage her family, educate her children, and assist her neighbours'. o Offered some degree of reassurance to many that, despite the turbulent political climate of the age, an alteration of domestic 'harmony' need not be an accompanying development. o Links to patriarchy, instability.

So...A belief that women's scholarship would fundamentally transform disciplinary paradigms.
? The way this new history would include and account for women's experience rested on the extent to which gender could be developed as a category of analysis.
? Gender, class and race were regularly invoked in the writing of this new history.
? An interest in these categories indicated a commitment to a history that included stories of the oppressed and an analysis of the meaning and nature of their oppression and also a scholarly understanding that inequalities of power are organised along at least 3 axes.Nevertheless, Judith Bennet has argued that women's history is exhibiting 'less explicit feminist perspectives' since establishing itself in mainstream academia. prompting the question, what has history contributed to the study of gender?
o A 'de-radicalisation' of feminist history may have occurred in order to maintain the respectability of the subject within the academic sphere - with, Bennet believes, less focus on women's oppression, the dynamics of power and any discourses that could be considered contentious. o Academic ivory tower. o Riley has commented that radicalism and instabilities are the 'sine qua non of feminism, which would otherwise be lost for an object, despoiled of a fight, and, in short, without much life' o Women's history the necessary starting point, but gender complements.

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