The field of women's history has gained importance due to the emergence of feminism and increased interest in "history from below". The women's movements in the United States and Europe during the 1970s and 1980s spurred scholarly works focused on women's history. Numerous articles and books were published with the specific goal of shedding light on women's roles throughout history, broadening historical research to cover subjects such as obstetrics, prostitution, and criminal defamation. Nevertheless, criticisms have been raised regarding the trajectory taken by women's history.
Gender presented an opportunity for a new approach. Despite numerous studies on women's past experiences, there was frustration that the new subject matter had not effectively transformed the male-centric practice of traditional history. Historian Elizabeth Fox-Genovese identified the problem as women's history accepting the dominant male perspectiv...
e, which relegated women to being "other" and resulted in a separate history for them. This approach, rather than challenging mainstream history, merely added women to it without fundamentally altering it. Fox-Genovese urged women historians to examine the gender systems that shaped both men and women's lives within society.
To comprehend the development of gender history arising from the recognition of women's history being insufficient, we must examine the evolution of women's history and its connection to the emergence of gender history. The term "gender" came about as a response to the diminishing mention of women in historical narratives and its increasing usage. While women are defined by their biological sex, they encompass more than just a biological category. They exist within society as a whole and are part of a community that includes females from different ages, classes, family positions, and countries who live in
environments shaped by beliefs and opinions that adhere to authoritative principles. Historians have been studying women's lives since the early 1900s; however, it was during the feminist social movement in the 1960s when women actively sought to address their lack of representation in most historical writings. Women's history has significantly contributed to unveiling new information about the past, deepening our understanding of them, and enriching our overall historical knowledge.
Women's history has documented the lives of women in different historical periods and focused on changes in their social, economic, educational, and political positions across various classes. According to Dubois et al., feminist scholarship in all fields acknowledges women's oppression and how academic research supports it while highlighting the potential for liberation and dedication to researching on behalf of women. In the 1960s, feminist activists called for a history that presents evidence of women's agency, explanations for their oppression, and inspiration for action. Academic feminists responded by aligning their scholarly work with a broader political agenda.
In the early days, politics and scholarship were closely connected. Nevertheless, starting in the mid-late 1970s, women's history expanded its focus beyond politics to encompass various aspects of women's historical experiences. This expansion resulted in advancements within the field of study. Subsequently, during the 1980s, there was a move towards examining gender as well. This shift has greatly impacted the study of history as a whole.
The concept of 'gender' is relatively new but has gained recognition and importance in the study of women's history. In the 1970s, feminist scholars adopted this term to analyze sexual differences, which greatly influenced the field of history. As a result, there has been an increase in
books about renowned women from the past and a greater presence of women in historical professions. The term 'gender' allows academics to delve into masculinity and femininity as a way to comprehend social relationships between men and women that go beyond physical traits. It is considered a neutral term that rejects biological explanations for female subordination, such as attributing it solely to childbirth or physical strength. Socialist Ann Oakley distinguishes between sex (biological differences) and gender (cultural classification into masculine and feminine), emphasizing the importance of recognizing the variability of gender while acknowledging the stability of sex.
Historians have coined a term to examine the historical construction of gender roles. Some scholars felt that studying women exclusively was too limited, so they introduced the term 'gender' to incorporate a relational concept into our analytical vocabulary. From this perspective, women and men are defined in relation to each other, and a comprehensive understanding of either cannot be achieved through separate studies. Numerous historians who employ the term 'gender' align themselves with feminist historiography. Furthermore, many authors who contribute to women's history actively participate in a highly political endeavor seeking to challenge established authority within the profession and academia, aiming for transformative changes in how history is written.
Historians of women have struggled to include women in history and the task of rewriting required new ways of thinking that they were not initially prepared or trained for. What they needed was a way to consider difference and how it shaped relationships between individuals and social groups. 'Gender' was the term used to address the issue of sexual difference. In the United States, this term was borrowed from sociology studies
on the social roles assigned to women and men. Feminists emphasized the societal implications of gender.
They also emphasized the relational aspect of gender: one could not conceive of women except as they were defined in relation to men, nor men except as they were differentiated from women. Additionally, since gender was defined as relative to social and cultural contexts, it was possible to think in terms of different gender systems - the relationships of those to other categories such as race or class or ethnicity as well as to consider historical change. The category of gender, used to analyze differences between the sexes, was extended to the issue of differences within the difference. All demands for recognition of the experiences and histories of diverse types of women played out the logic of auxiliary, this time in relation to the universal category of women, to the sufficiency of any general women's history, and to the ability of any historian of women to cover all the ground. The issue of differences within difference brought forth a debate about how and whether to articulate gender as a category of analysis. Gender systems - a fixed opposition (or roles) for the sexes that operate consistently in all domains of social life.
The text discusses the significance of women's history in addressing gender relations, perceptions of gender, the creation of gendered institutions, and the impact of race, class, ethnicity, and gender on women's historical experiences. Women's history presents a challenge to established history as it requires a fundamental shift in how objective, neutral, and universal history is defined. Historically, women have been excluded from this perspective. Additionally, the term "gender" was
introduced to suggest that studying women's history would bring about revolutionary changes in disciplinary paradigms. Feminist scholars argued that exploring women's history would not only introduce new topics but also question existing scholarly norms and assumptions. The challenge presented by women's history is primarily theoretical and calls for an examination of the past relationship between male and female experiences and their relevance to current historical practices.
The initial focus of women historians revolved around the collective historical experience of women, rather than their individual experiences. They utilized gender as a means to establish a connection among them. This emphasis on collective experience also led women historians to give priority to continuity over change in terms of the history of women's subordination. Linda Gordon proposes that feminists should strive to construct a theoretical framework for their academic studies that surpasses simplistic dichotomies such as victim/heroine and domination/resistance, and instead encompasses the wide range of experiences encountered by women.
The history of Western Europe has long seen women facing inferior work opportunities and conditions compared to men. Scholars have attributed this to the association of women with nature and domesticity in the home, while men are linked to civilization and the public sphere. The concept of patriarchate has played a crucial role in understanding this situation, initially focusing on women but eventually encompassing gender as a whole. Early feminist historians expanded its meaning to include men's ongoing domination over women. However, criticism emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s as this perception of male domination seemed unchangeable and overly simplistic, disregarding positive relationships between the sexes.
According to Judith Bennett, the term "patriarch" had nearly vanished from women's history
by 1989. Bennett defended its use, as it emphasizes the pervasive and lasting nature of women's oppression. However, she also recognized that this does not mean patriarchy is unchanging. For Bennett, the main focus of women's historians should be to examine how patriarchy functions and understand its persistence over time. Hammerton argued that patriarchy remains valuable in comprehending how male power has evolved without being fully abandoned. Thus, the debate surrounding patriarchy has prompted historians to recognize the historical presence of male power and investigate its mechanisms.
The perception of patriarchy has shifted, no longer solely attributing the subjugation of women but recognizing it as a multifaceted issue. This is evident in studies exploring the dynamic between men and women, as well as in the investigation of masculinity. John Tosh emphasizes the need for historians to analyze how men exert power over women, both psychologically and socially. Gender not only addresses the theoretical concerns in women's history, but also allows for an examination of masculinity in a new light. It provides a means to decipher meaning and comprehend the intricate connections within human interactions. Recognizing the significance of gender in challenging biological determinism, some women's historians advocated for its inclusion in the field early on.
In an early and important consideration for the 'sub-discipline' of women's history, Natalie Zemon Davis identified a new stage in women's history. In her plenary address to the Berkshire Conference of Women's history in 1974, Davis called for the 'record of female activity in the past' no longer to exist in isolation from either men or its historical context. The aim was to understand the significance of gender roles in societal life
and historical change, Davis outlined an approach which would soon be characterized as 'gender history'. For her, it was obvious 'that we should be interested in the history of both men and women, that we should not be working solely on the oppressed sex any more than a historian of class can focus entirely on peasants. Our goal is to discover the range in gender roles and sexual symbolism in different societies and periods, to find out what meaning they had and how they functioned to maintain the social order or promote its change.' Addressing the relations between sexes, 'gender groups in the historical past', would enable the historian of women to directly address some of the key concerns of the discipline as a whole; power, periodization, social structure and symbolic systems.
Incorporating women's history into the disciplinary mainstream would broaden the audience and alter the nature of history. Joan Kelly also emphasized the importance of examining sex as a central aspect of societal analysis, alongside categories such as class and race. She proposed a relational periodisation that considers the impact of change on both men and women. Analyzing gender involves studying the relationship between men and women, understanding how laws that apply to one gender affect the other, what their relative positions and actions reveal about each other, and what depictions of sexual differences suggest about societal, political, and economic power structures. Interest in the history of masculinity emerged from women's history research and other contemporary concerns.
In Britain in the late seventies and early 1980s, the 'men's movement' emerged to challenge traditional gender roles by arguing that societal expectations limited men and hindered
their emotional expression. Similar to women before them since the late sixties, some men turned to history for alternative and more positive notions of masculinity. However, writing about men's history proved more methodologically challenging than women's history. Some argue that using the term 'gender' is a politically correct and inclusive alternative to other feminist terms, serving as a way to moderate the radical feminist agenda of women's history. Gender history developed from women's history, with many historians who employ the term considering themselves feminists.
In previous times, numerous articles and books discussing women's history have substituted the term 'women' with 'gender' in their titles. While 'gender' typically pertains to particular analytical frameworks, it is sometimes employed to indicate the field's political acceptability. In such cases, 'gender' aims to convey the scholarly gravity of the subject matter, as it possesses a more impartial and objective demeanor compared to 'women'.
The field of social science includes the concept of 'gender', which is separate from the political aspects of feminism. 'Gender' does not suggest inequality or power dynamics, nor does it imply victimhood. Conversely, 'women's history' explicitly acknowledges the political connections by stating that women are significant figures in history. While 'gender' encompasses women, it does not solely focus on them and therefore does not pose a threat. In 1986, historian Joan Scott published an article in the American Historical Review discussing gender as a category for analyzing history. Her work expanded upon previous research on women's experiences while also challenging certain assumptions.
The work that stems from the task of 'recovering women's experiences/voices' has prompted a shift. Instead, we are now urged to explore the interconnected nature of both men
and women, masculinity and femininity. Scott argued that while women's history focused mainly on description, gender history questions 'dominant disciplinary constructs,' thus challenging the very foundation of historical analysis. In other words, by using gender, historians not only include women in the narrative of events but also challenge the understanding of those events. Gender history doesn't solely examine women's experiences within their designated roles such as the family and home but rather 'serves as a primary way of interpreting power relationships.'
The concept of gender goes beyond just describing the cultural characteristics associated with being female. It also explains how society functions as a whole. Even in areas where women are traditionally absent, such as high politics, labor relations, diplomacy, and warfare, masculine traits are celebrated and prioritized over feminine ones. Gender is not simply a descriptive term, but a framework for analysis. The categories of "man" and "woman" are not fixed, but rather culturally constructed meanings assigned to bodies that change over time. Historians studying gender have often focused on women, but there is increasing recognition of the importance of studying masculinity as well.
The feminist movement played a significant role in shaping gender history. In the United States, activists fought for equal rights while historians focused on examining the status and experiences of women in the past, often highlighting notable women. The study of patriarchy provided a political framework for women's history and raised awareness within the historical profession regarding the importance of women's history and women historians. Radical feminism aimed to explain women's subordination by emphasizing male control over women's sexuality, often arguing that all forms of oppression stem from the traditional nuclear family
structure. From a historian's perspective, this can lead to a belief that gender relations remain stagnant over time, perpetuating an ahistorical concept of patriarchy. The substitution of 'gender' for 'women' suggests that information about women inherently includes information about men.
This usage of gender argues that the category of adult females is an integral part of the category of men, both created within it and by it. This perspective challenges the notion of separate domains, as it suggests that studying women in isolation perpetuates the misconception that one gender's experience has little or nothing to do with the other. Gender provides a framework for differentiating between sexual behavior and the societal roles assigned to women and men. It is applicable to various subjects, including women, children, families, and gender ideologies.
The concept of gender is part of the effort by modern feminists to assert a specific definition and highlight the inadequacy of existing theories in explaining persistent inequalities between women and men. Gender refers to the social relationships that are based on perceived differences between the sexes. It involves the resistance and differences between males and females.
From the beginning, the goal of women's history was to reclaim the lives of women from being disregarded by historians. Initially, it focused on compiling a list of notable women throughout history. In the 1970s, it shifted towards documenting the expectations, aspirations, and status of average women. With the rise of the feminist movement, the emphasis turned towards exposing the repression faced by women and investigating their reactions to discrimination and subordination.
Despite originating from the feminist movement, gender history has distinct goals. Recognizing that masculinity and femininity are social constructs, gender
studies how institutions are gendered and how they in turn gender individuals. Alongside race and class, gender has become an essential category for historical analysis. To fully comprehend women's experiences and social roles, it is crucial to examine the gender dynamics between men and women, as well as investigate men's identities and their ability to exert patriarchal control over women and each other. Understanding how concepts of femininity evolve over time requires historians to acknowledge established gender norms and the conflicts surrounding them. Gender serves as an analytical tool for historians to identify the causes and duration of women's inequality.
There is a notable overlap between women's history and gender history, as they can be considered somewhat synonymous. This is evident in sources such as texts labeled with 'gender', which often revolve around women, their lives, and their concerns. It can be argued that women's history is still relevant today, as there continues to be a publication of articles and books covering various times and places. The fact that these publications attract both academic and popular audiences indicates a continued interest in learning about women in the past. The study of gender also incorporates men and masculinity. Many books and articles focus on women but use 'gender' as a more appealing term to describe this focus.
From various perspectives, women are well-represented in studies and discussions about societal history. Recently, there has been a focus on the role of women in royalty and high politics. This has helped to bring women into the historical narrative. Additionally, research on gender and the methods used in studying history have challenged traditional approaches to women's history. Gender history not only
examines femininity but also involves the study of masculinity, which has prompted gender historians to question some fundamental assumptions made by women's historians. As a result, gender is sometimes seen as a reflection of women's history.
Many of the leading supporters of adult females's history started researching ideas of gender due to a desire for development within the field. This desire was influenced by criticisms of universalist claims and an increasing questioning of the category of "women". However, despite calls for adult females's history to incorporate gender and have a greater impact on mainstream history, some feminist historians argue that adult females's history should remain distinct and in opposition to male or official history. The concept of gender emerged from broader trends in the historical field, as historians shifted their focus from understanding women's experiences to examining power relations inherent in concepts of masculinity and femininity. While gender initially developed as a response to women's historical invisibility, it later expanded to include the investigation of masculine history as well.
- Oakley, Ann, Sex, Gender and Society ( London, 1972 )
- Joan Kelly-Gradol, 'the societal dealingss of the sexes: methodological deductions of adult females 's history ' , marks I ( 1975-6 )
- Anna green and Kathleen troup the hosue of history Manchester university imperativeness 1999
- L Tilly 'women 's history, gender and societal history ' societal scientific discipline history ( 1989 ) vol 15 no 4
- Bennett, Judith, m.'feminism and history ' , gender and histoy
- Peter Burke erectile dysfunction.New positions on historical composing civil order imperativeness Cambridge 1991
Fox-Genovese, 'Placing Women 's History in History ' , New left Review 113 ( 1982 )
Hammerton, Cruelty and company: struggle in 19th-century married life (London, 1992)
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