|Gender history starts with the distinction made between gender and sex, in that gender adds on to sex expectations of cultural propriety and power relationships (see Green, Troup, 1999, 253). These are made, not given (sex is a given), and so they have a maker as well as receiver.|
|One part of the maker is the academic community itself, which has undergone change increasingly since the 1960s. A resulting gender history has two broadly different aspects:|
|The first involves a Kuhnian revolution. It should infect all methodologies and end the patriarchal structure of ordinary historical discourse. This was written from the stance of social and cultural anthropology:|
|This change of attitude, however, has to do with far more than the popularity of the topic of women, or the female perspective of things; for gender studies in anthropology, as with its sister disciplines, have played, along with the forces of post-modernism and post-colonialism, a salient role over the past two to three decades in a major critique of the grand narratives of the human sciences. This dawning recognition of the 'problem of women', not only in anthropology but its sister studies as well, served as one of the major impetuses for the redrawing of sacred academic boundaries, visions and concerns. (Rapport, Overing, 2000, 142)|
|That there is a section called gender history suggests that the revolution is not quite so thorough, or at least there is a special need to retain an additional sector of history of this kind. There is a need to analyse what areas gender history has impact:|
|Then feminism has its own varieties and perspectives, generally though not each exclusively under one of liberal (gaining equality of opportunity), Marxist-structural (revolutionise the system) or radical (overcome repression of reproduction) lines. These categories cannot remove the need for historical detail and change, where history, from the evidence, often does not fit neatly into them, nor should it:|
|So one central issue for feminists is whether a structural analysis in terms of technology, economy and social organisation is sufficient in the oppression of women. Can the "sexual class" as such be reduced to this explanation. The answer may be no (see Firestone below). It is equally inadequate to reduce feminism to ahistorical psychoanalysis. This is where definition is all important, following on from Simone de Beauvoir, that femininity is a social construction about presentation in society. De Beauvoir wanted women to be more rational, but an alternative is to focus on the effect, as represented in society, on the biological functions. The division of labour, which has an historical basis, is organised around this reproductive role. It is this distinction which would have to be overcome and done, for example, by the full expansion of relationship and reproductive choices, including the use of reproductive technology as a means of liberation from that difference. (See Firestone, Rich; May, 1996, 162-165)|
|Such radical views of female oppression always look beyond the structural. Pyschoanalysis is an obviously important field for definitions, and for history to take a part somewhere a cultural (or other accompanying analysis) is required with it, because of the need for change. This is not to say that continuities are not important, especially in the experience of women, and yet history as a discipline abhors what is static to human nature (biology, universal patriarchy or psychoanalysis alone) as it falls outside its focus. Considerations of change include the development of the family, in definitions of relationships and proprieties, in the function of reproduction within society, and representations of biology over and above biology itself. (255-256)|
|Another question is that of language itself, applying the linguistic turn to feminism. In this case, historical documents are examined for their own constructions in the categorising of women. The difficulty here is that the text is analysed rather than any reality behind it. Texts, however, were produced in time, so attitudes are displayed in time. These attitudes can be those of women in any one time, unable to speak for themselves. Texts analysed also reveal the ambiguity of the concept of woman, no doubt frustrating to feminism again in terms of charting oppression and with an agenda of practical action as the concept of woman is decentred hardly after it has begun to be the subject of discrimination. (256-258)|
|History does also tend to undermine ready concepts, so from an inductive point of view there are many ways to categorise woman, in terms of many varieties of identity. So when feminism constructs woman, this has its own conceptual history.|
|All this engages with social theory, but it is more than blindingly obvious that most political and social document shout aloud witting and unwitting testimonies about their constructions of men, women, sexuality, assumptions and dominance, social attitudes and restrictions, in the public space and private spaces. It is then that analysis begins in order to illuminate. Often looking at gender in documents fills a historiographical gap (Hall in Green, Troup, 1999, 263-276), which takes the discussion back to where it began.|
Dates in brackets are some times of impact just in areas mentioned.
Green, A., Troup, K. (eds) (1999), The Houses of History: A Critical Reader in Twentieth-Century History and Theory, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 253-262.
Hall, C. (1981), 'Gender Divisions and Class Formation in the Birmingham Middle Class, 1780-1850, in Samuel, R. (ed.) (1981), People's History and Socialist Theory, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 164-75, in Green, Troup, 1999, 263-276.
May, T. (1996), Situating Social Theory, Buckingham: Open University Press, 158-175.