Women's History Lead On To The History Of Gender

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Women's History Lead On To The History Of Gender

Women's History Lead On To The History Of Gender


Recovering the lives of women from the neglect of historians was the goal of women's history from its inception. Its methodology and interests have evolved over time as it has become established as an academic discipline. From its early origins in cataloguing great women in history, in the 1970s it turned to recording ordinary women's expectations, aspirations and status. Then, with the rise of the feminist movement, the emphasis shifted in the 1980s towards exposing the oppression of women and examining how they responded to discrimination and subordination. In more recent time's women's history has moved to charting female agency, recognizing women's strategies, accommodations and negotiations within a male dominated world. Although it developed out of the feminist agenda, gender history has somewhat different objectives . Recognizing that femininity and masculinity are to some extent social constructs, it investigates how institutions are gendered and how institutions gender individuals. In a short space of time gender has become an indispensable category for historical analysis alongside class and race. While this is to be applauded, gender history is not without its problems. One of its most prolific areas of research is the history of men as a sex and the changing nature of masculinity. Though gender is a relational concept, women and femininity have been marginalized in some of these studies. Thus it is time to ask whether gender history is 'hiding' women from history again .


As sobering as these timely warnings are, there are several reasons why it is unlikely that women will disappear from the historical gaze.

First, gender history is not incompatible with, or antagonistic to, exploring women in history. Indeed, the tools of gender analysis are essential to advance our knowledge of women further. To understand female experience and identity formulation, for example, it is necessary to investigate gender relationships between women and men, and to explore men's identities and their ability to achieve and exercise patriarchal power over women as well as over each other. To chart how ideas about femininity change over time, scholars need to identify normative gender constructions and conflict around them. Gender is also a category of analysis that enables historians to perceive the causes and maintenance of women's inequality. Gender history even highlights the remaining gaps in our understandings of women. For instance, while most historical studies of early modern or eighteenth-century English masculinity expose the diversity of male identities - or masculinities - there are very few published studies of English femininity in these periods, let alone many exploring whether women also confronted a range of constructions of femininity .

Second, there is substantial blurring of boundaries between women's history and gender history as, to some extent; they can be seen as synonymous.

Third, the fact that scholars are asking conceptual and methodological questions about both gender and women's history reveals the vitality of both fields and points to ...
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