Tuesday, 19 December 2006

gender history doesn't mean women's history

"co-ed" is defined as (1) attended by members of both sexes, or (2) a female student at a coeducational college or university. This second definition illustrates a troubling feature of activism: the terminology captures precisely the inequality that is meant to be defeated. I am a student at a coeducational university, yet I am not a co-ed. Only women can be co-eds. Usage reflects history. The same goes for race and gender history and philosophy. If I say that I am studying gendered history of science, that connotes (to some) that I am studying women in the history of science. The fact is, I study mostly men in the history of science. That doesn't make gender history a less relevant approach; if anything, it makes it more necessary. Saying "gender" implies "women" for specific historical reasons: gender history arose as part of a larger movement to understand history as more than the story of elites (who were typically rich white men). In the early years of such a movement, that means a lot of topics on The Role of [a non-elite group] in the History of [whatever]. These topics are the low-hanging fruit--they aren't necessarily easy to do (elites tend to keep better records than non-elites), but they are easy to think up. What's harder to do (because of the imbalance in source materials, among other things) is to create a balanced account.

No comments: