Gender and History
Joan W. Scott introduced gender as a means to add depth and deeper meaning to history. While she was not the first person to use the term as it relates to history, the criticism she received from her peers demonstrated she had presented a useful “category of historical analysis.” Using gender as an addition to historical study adds a broader view of social and cultural history. As Scott notes, gender adds to our understanding of familial relationships, economies, educational systems, and politics. (1068) Some historians have used and will use gender as a sole means of examining a subject. I don’t think this is the most productive way to use gender as a tool for historical analysis. This method separates the role gender played in history rather than allowing the concept to add depth to the research on a particular topic. I believe this is how Scott would like to see gender used. Including gender in historical study allows historians “a way to decode meaning and to understand the complex connections among various forms of human interactions.” (1070)
I was also struck by her use of gender as “a primary way of signifying relationships of power.” (1069) Joan Meyerowitz explained it best:
“She suggested how the language of sex difference had historically provided a means to articulate relationships of power. In this way, she tied gender back to other forms of difference and pushed us to ponder the metanarratives that mutually constituted various social and political hierarchies. And ponder we should. This may, in the end, prove to be the enduring legacy of “Gender.”” (1356)
I think this is the importance of gender in historical studies. Gender as means to explain power relationships offers valuable insights into almost all historical examinations. (Foucault would be proud!) With this being said I wonder if studies who exclude gender in their analysis are flawed, or at the very least, lack a complete analysis. I know from the thesis proposals we are reading that some have not used gender in their studies because of lack of primary source materials. This lack of source material presents an interesting dilemma for researchers – How do you include a gender study of a topic if little to no sources exist relating to women? I am hoping some of you can provide an answer to this question. Just thinking about the first to proposal defenses I do not know how they would be able to add gender as a dimension to their studies. If gender, as Scott suggests, helps explain power relationships and social and political hierarchies, then should gender be included in all historical inquiries?
I think I can provide a little insight into your question, “How do you include a gender study of a topic if little to no sources exist relating to women?” Gender is not necessarily just about women (and though simplistic, I think a lot of people forget this). Gender studies can involve studies of masculinity without the inclusion of women, for example. A gender lens can also be utilized to examine social structures and hierarchies, as well. Thus, it is important to remember that gender does not always connote women’s studies and I believe it can be utilized in all historical studies if any given study will benefit from its inclusion (though certainly all will not).
I think as much as gender can be included it should be — but sometimes it’s just not within the scope of the project, and that’s understandable. We can’t be expected to hit EVERY possible angle. However, I think gender does seem to get lost a lot of the time, particularly in terms of the female aspect, as we have noted.
I have also been trying to analyze the role of gender in some of the books I have been reading this semester, specifically for Environmental History. In several of the books, there has been little to no discussion of gender, and I have wondered if this prevents these books from being “complete”…at the same time, based on the theses and scopes of these works, I do not necessarily believe that the lack of gender harms these narratives, but it certainly would add another level of depth if included!
In terms of source material, I wonder if there truly is no source material or if it is just not readily available via the internet and other search tools. I say this because, given that women’s history was marginalized for so long, couldn’t it be possible that we (historians) still have yet to uncover all of the first hand sources (diaries, writings, etc.)? If the scope or argument necessitates the inclusion of gender, I would sincerely hope that SOME source material could be uncovered OR that a point of view could be inferred based on the material available.
I agree with you that gender is an important lens through which to look at history, but not the only one, and should be used in concert with other lenses. I think that Scott’s way of using gender as a lens also lends itself to being applied to the analysis of other power relationships.