Gender and History in Western Europe.Gender and History in Western Europe, edited by Robert Shoemaker and Mary Vincent. London, Arnold Publishers, 1998. 388 pp. $46.95.
The editors of this "Arnold Reader" are lecturers in the Department of History of the University of Sheffield The University of Sheffield is a research university, located in Sheffield in South Yorkshire, England. Reputation
Sheffield was the Sunday Times University of the Year in 2001 and has consistently appeared as their top 20 institutions. . The texts reprinted here are deemed to be useful for teaching "Gender and History in Western Europe." The editors have, however, greater ambitions for their book. They feel that their selection documents the emergence and transformation of "gender" as a critical category in history.
The volume contains the writings of no less than fifteen authors. Among them are the veterans of gender analysis: Joan Scott, Leonore Davidoff, Catherine Hall, Thomas Laqueur, and others. But there are also new, less doctrinaire, voices: Gisela Bock, John Tosh, Lyndal Roper, and Amanda Vickery. To organize them under appropriate headings must have been difficult. Perhaps the final arrangement ("Theory & Method", "Body and Sexuality", "Religion", and others) was decided in a campus pub toward closing time.
At the very least, the collection proves that gender as a category of historical analysis has produced "a substantial body of knowledge about gender relations in the past which simply did not exist before" (p. 14). The editors seek a better understanding of gender history at the present moment. Such an understanding can only come about through a survey of its investigations, its specializations, and its methods.
Gender history began as a quest to broaden the scope of women's and feminist history. Since then, there has been some fear that it will become bogged down in discourse and structure analysis. Pleas are made to accommodate sociopolitical so·ci·o·po·li·ti·cal
Involving both social and political factors.
of or involving political and social factors constructions of femininity and masculinity. Can gender history escape "cultural captivity," the double bind of critical minority disciplines where such specialization is official liberal ideology? In this review, I can provide only brief glimpses of some of the works chosen for this volume. In doing so, I tried to determine how strongly they challenge or confirm the power of gender analysis "to address (and change) existing historical paradigms," using Joan Scott's words (p. 46).
That gender as critical category may puncture the existing historical narrative is evident from Thomas Laqueur's "Orgasm, Generation and the Politics of Reproductive Biology" (1986). Laqueur's proposed continuity between modern and traditional perceptions of reproduction challenges liberal gradualism grad·u·al·ism
1. The belief in or the policy of advancing toward a goal by gradual, often slow stages.
2. Biology . For example, until the discovery of the ovaries in 1930, men and women were considered sexual equals, albeit socially differentiated. Women were believed to have their sexual organs inverted and orgasm was considered crucial to the generation of new life. After 1830, however, men and women became socially equals but sexually differentiated. In tracing the changing "biology,"' Laqueur argues that the "naturalized" difference today is but a synecdoche synecdoche (sĭnĕk`dəkē), figure of speech, a species of metaphor, in which a part of a person or thing is used to designate the whole—thus, "The house was built by 40 hands" for "The house was built by 20 people." See metonymy. of earlier assumptions.
Gisela Bock's article, "Women's History and Gender History: Aspects of an International Debate" (1989), leads directly to the nineteenth-century "invention of biology." The political dimensions of this invention include Nazi ideology of racial and sexual "biological" traits. Historians, in Bock's view, need to find out how gender, a complex "relationship," has been used to serve unacknowledged political interests.
Lyndal Roper's investigation of cultural dimensions of sexuality, in "Oedipus and the Devil" (reprinted from a book of the same title 1994) proves similarly fruitful in challenging linear perceptions of history. Questioning the biologistic adj. 1. of or pertaining to biologism.
Adj. 1. biologistic - of or relating to biologism reduction to drives of the imagistic and the textual by Freud, leads Roper to question and expose biologism n. 1. use of biological principles in explaining human behavior, especially social behavior.
a theory or doctrine based on a biological viewpoint. — biologistic, adj. as a "narrative" that supplants the reality of a rich mythic and psychic heritage.
Not all gender history is as interested in drawing conclusions concerning political power. Phyllis Mack's "Talking Back: Women as Prophets during the Civil War and Interregnum INTERREGNUM, polit. law. In an established government, the period which elapses between the death of a sovereign and the election of another is called interregnum. It is also understood for the vacancy created in the executive power, and for any vacancy which occurs when there is no government. " (reprinted from Visionary Women: Ecstatic Prophecy in Seventeenth-Century, 1992) documents gender language and image differences in a context where both non-conformist men and women participate in print culture. In which way, we may ask, does that situation parallel that of women after the French Revolution?
On the other hand, Barbara Corrado Pope's article, "Immaculate and Powerful: the Marian Revival in the Nineteenth Century" (1985) not only explains the cult of the Virgin with the tools of social history but shows that it does not revalue the importance of women. The wide appeal of the "visions" of the Virgin, usually to peasant women and children, was tapped into by the French and Roman church through mass pilgrimages, spectacle, and a mass production of medals. A religious "press" educated Catholic clergy and congregations alike in its ideology.
Leonore Davidoff, in "`Adam Spoke First and Named the Orders of the World': Masculine and Feminine Domains in History and Sociology" (1990), peruses presently questioned categories of "middle class" and "class consciousness." She employs the geographic metaphor to indicate a further sub-division along "gender lines," separating Victorian masculine and feminine domains into "amoral but political" and "apolitical but moral" respectively. Her views and methods are complemented by Catherine Hall's "The Early Formation of Victorian Domestic Ideology" (1992).
Amanda Vickery, however, attacks the historians of the "Separate Spheres." She argues, in "Golden Age to Separate Spheres?" (1992), that there never was a "lost egalitarian Eden" before the Victorian "cage." In her view, gender historians fell victim to nineteenth-century feminist rhetoric, describing the home as prison, home duties as drudgery and slavery. However, Vickery does not seem aware of works in women's history (as for example that of Anne Summers) that explore the Victorian state and its role in domesticating the public sphere (work places, hospitals, armies).
Vickery's criticism of the separate spheres school is sound but for the wrong reasons. It was this domestication domestication
Process of hereditary reorganization of wild animals and plants into forms more accommodating to the interests of people. In its strictest sense, it refers to the initial stage of human mastery of wild animals and plants. of public life, and not the emancipation of women, that made the meeting between needs of the state and the use of woman possible. Again, that some (by no means many) women played a role in this domestication, as shown by Seth Koven and Sonya Michel's "Womanly wom·an·ly
adj. wom·an·li·er, wom·an·li·est
1. Having qualities generally attributed to a woman.
2. Belonging to or representative of a woman; feminine: womanly attire. Duties: Maternalist Politics and the Origins of Welfare States in France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, 1880-1920" (1995), simply shows the limits of investigations that try to comprehend the past through "gender" analysis alone.
How far the foregoing authors travelled since the first gender histories may be determined by considering "Woman on Top" (reprinted from Society and Culture in Early Modern France For the administrative and social structures of early modern France, see .
Early Modern France is that portion of French history that falls in the early modern period from the end of the 15th century to the end of the 18th century (or from the French Renaissance to the eve of , 1975), by Natalie Zemon Davis Natalie Zemon Davis (born November 8, 1928) is a Canadian and American historian of early modern Europe. Her work originally focused on France, but has since broadened. For example, Trickster's Travels . It is the oldest article in the collection. Speaking about Europe between the fifteenth and eighteenth century, Davis offers the gender analysis that women symbolized disorder. She points out, also, that the cross-overs occurred in unruly times: during "carnival," charivari cha·ri·va·ri
n. pl. cha·ri·va·ris Regional
See shivaree. See Regional Note at shivaree.
[French, from Old French, perhaps from Late Latin car , or uprising. To dress as a woman or allow a woman to "be on top" was short-lived and inconsequential disorder. The impersonation Impersonation
wore the armor of Achilles against the Trojans to encourage the disheartened Greeks. [Gk. Lit.: Iliad]
Prisoner of Zenda, The as woman, it follows, symbolized uprising and rebellion rather than reform or revolution. What, however, prevents Davis from drawing connections with the value of gender role inversions today.
We may conclude from this survey that "gender analysis" cannot and should not be defined. It is to its credit, that there are unlimited methods and interpretations. Gender and History in Western Europe illustrates the historical territory mapped by gender analysis. Not that gender analysis has already come of age. However, it has a large number of practitioners, and a wide audience. These are good reasons for gender analysis to begin working out the historical issues raised by its discoveries.
Henriette T. Donner Humanities, Atkinson College York University