Gender and the Politics of History Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

politics, at least according to most college course catalogues, are separate disciplines. 'Women's Studies' also forms its own separate category, apart from these two disciplines. Yet in her work Gender and the Politics of History, Joan Wallach Scott makes it clear that for as long as women's studies has existed as a discipline, feminist historians have suggested that all three elements are intertwined in a proper analysis of history. Feminist historians have suggested that ways that gender has been viewed as a construct throughout history impacts the way history is viewed. The politics of how gender archetypes have been enshrined, both in law, in legislation, and in the political consciousness have all have an impact on the way that history is viewed retrospectively, and the way women live their lives today.

Scott writes her work both in response to these feminist historians, and as a part of the tradition of the rash of academic and popular women's writing about women in history in recent years. (15) Although it is impossible to reduce these writings on women's histories to a "particular political stance" she suggests a certain commonality between all of them in their lack of commonality. She pinpoints a problem that arises because of the lack of a tradition of historiography when writing about gender. Historians with political projects, such as Marxists, employ different historiographic techniques than those mainly interested in studying the construction of the feminine narrative of reproduction, and how women have attempted to control their bodies throughout history, for example. (16)

Scott suggests that it has been viewed as important for a certain interrelation between various historical studies of women in history to be constructed, and for these attempts at reconstructing a female history to have a valid and lasting political impact upon the intellectual consciousness of academia as well as the larger political sphere. (17) She acknowledges that all of these various analytic methods to some extent have "produce[d] a new knowledge about women" and produced a greater sense of the way women have impacted historical development. But a more consistent approach would necessary, Scott suggests, to justify the creation of a specifically 'women's history' apart from analysis of class, race, and particular historical periods. (17) Ultimately, such a separation will prove impossible, given the fluctuating nature of what constitutes gender across historical space and time, Scott suggests over the course of the essays that make up her book.

Scott suggests the project of her book is to show that to trace a more consistent, linear form of the development of women's history over time is a fruitless historical project in and of itself. She addresses the difficulty of chronology, of creating a sense of women's history as a whole, as the notion of 'woman' as unique and distinct historical actor is relatively recent. This is not to say that Scott discounts all of her feminist historical colleague's previous efforts. She notes that the conventional, accepted narrative of history as progress is profoundly challenged by the fact that women have often not benefited by the supposed advances in technology and scholarship the same way that men have. But a specifically feminist form of historiography cannot be created that transcends analysis of specific historical narratives tied to place and time. In the same way that broad-sweeping male histories of historical developments have failed and been challenged by feminists, so will broad-sweeping feminist analyses of history.

All feminist attempts at historiography have not been as illuminating as the ones cited above, after all. Scott cites past attempts in feminist historiography that have a similarly simplistic view of history as past, non-feminist readings of history. Domestic ideology of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century has often been read simply as "bad" and "oppressive" to women, without exploring the unique ways that women found liberation within these forms of discourse. Simply because women may have found liberation in the home does not automatically mean they were oppressed. A historian must consider the way that the valorization of underpaid work was often used as a tool of oppression to women and men of the lower classes during this era. Women's attempts at finding an alternative form of thinking about their lives in a non-monetary, anti-capitalistic form have taken on their own types of empowerment. (146-149) Class itself is one of the most neglected aspects of examining women's role in history, Scott suggests, by all except the…

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