Herstory: Does The History Of Women Require A Separate Study

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Herstory: Does The History Of Women Require A Separate Study
Herstory: Does The History Of Women Require A Separate Study

Video: Herstory: Does The History Of Women Require A Separate Study

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Video: What is HERSTORY? What does HERSTORY mean? HERSTORY meaning, definition \u0026 explanation 2023, January

Women's and Gender History - Terms, which today seem to be on hearing, but the majority still seem to be something incomprehensible. What is behind these names? Does women's history require a separate discipline? How and what are gender historians studying today? Ella Rossman, a gender historian of the USSR, a teacher at the School of Cultural Studies at the Higher School of Economics, tells about all this.

Text: Ella Rossman, Alexandra Savina


History of women

If you try to briefly explain the meaning of women's history (in English it is called women’s history), it’s better to call it the history of women. This discipline and activist project originated in the United States and is closely associated with second wave feminism. The main task of women's history was, in fact, to return women to the history of women - to “discover” a woman as an important part of world history and to tell what role she played in familiar events.

The prerequisites for such an approach appeared at the beginning of the century - for example, in the 1920s, the French school "Annals" called to look at the study of history differently, to move away from describing the life of "great people" and turn to the everyday life of different classes, and Sylvia Pankhurst wrote about the role of the suffrage movement in history. Nevertheless, for a long time these ideas remained without due attention: back in the 1960s, the idea that "real" scientists should deal with politics and the history of wars, and "everyday life and customs" were the lot of their laggards, were very popular in historical science. colleagues. Because of these hierarchies, women were effectively excluded from texts about historical events. It is clear that they became heroines of political history much less often than men: for thousands of years they had almost no access to power and big politics. The same can be said about science and art: women could appear here, but it was much more difficult for them to get into these areas than for men, largely due to the lack of access to art education, as well as due to the restrictions imposed by the social role. "Wives" - serving the interests of the spouse was valued more than creativity. For a long time, women were not even counted in the population census - for example, in ancient Rome, they began to be included in the census only in the third century AD, solely for the sake of taxes.

However, historians of women urged to pay attention not only to the "male" spheres - the labor market and political processes, but also to the "invisible" unpaid female labor - emotional work, caring for the family and home; offered to look at how the personal and the political are connected.

In addition, they wanted to draw attention to the undeservedly forgotten female heroines of the past. For example, early studies on women's history include the names of Sophia de Condorcet, the writer, translator and organizer of influential literary salons in revolutionary France, or Elizabeth Blackwell, the first female doctor in the United States.

In the seventies and eighties, the discipline continued to develop. It became especially popular in the United States and Great Britain, with research in these countries having a different focus. In the United States, more attention was paid to the contribution of women to culture, purely female initiatives and special female experience, the role of women in the family and female sexuality - some researchers believed that it is very important to trace the relationship between them in order to study the life of women. Notable American researchers include Joan Kelly, author of the famous essay "Did Women Have a Renaissance?" ("Did women have a Renaissance?"). In her work, Kelly questions the traditional attitude to the periodization of history, in particular, to the Renaissance: women over the centuries did not have the same rights as men, which means that the "flourishing" of culture and science bypassed them.“All the progress of Renaissance Italy, its economic condition, the structure of estates, its humanistic culture sought to turn a noble woman into a beautiful decorative object, make her humble and chaste and put her in a doubly dependent position - from her own husband and from the authorities,” she wrote …

In the UK, research has been closely linked to the history of labor: women's work, wage inequality, and trade union functioning. Book Laura Oren, for example, raised the question of the role women played in the British economy. Despite the fact that some of them were not engaged in paid work, it was they who had to distribute the family budget - they often saved on food for themselves and for their children in order to provide their husbands with what they needed, that is, they served as a kind of "buffer" in difficult families (and the economy) times.

The history of women quickly began to gain popularity - by the eighties, dozens of such courses had already been taught in American and European universities. In 1978, the schools of the California Sonoma County in the United States organized a week of women's history - during this time, students were supposed to study the achievements of women and their role in world events. The initiative proved so popular that in 1981, Women's History Week became a nationwide event, and in 1987, the US Congress declared March as Women's History Month.


From women's story to gender

Meanwhile, critics of "women's history" insisted that its separation into a separate discipline does not contribute to greater equality: women's achievements are not integrated into the general system, but go parallel - it seems that this is not part of the chronology of the rest of the world, but a special "female" chronology …

In 1985, the American researcher Joan Scott took the next step - she suggested talking not about women, but about gender history. The researcher spoke at a meeting of the American Historical Association, and a year later published the article "Gender: A Useful Category for Historical Analysis." According to Scott, "gender history" was supposed not only to revive forgotten female characters, but also to show the relationship between the sexes in certain historical circumstances and the mechanisms of distribution of power in society. Scott suggested concentrating on studying how ideas about "masculine" and "feminine", gender stereotypes and related traditions were formed at different times.

Following Joan Scott, the direction continued to develop. For example, in 1989 the first issue of the English-language magazine Gender & History was published with two editions, in the UK and the USA. And soon gender history had its own opponents: they argued that the history of women with this approach would be lost again, and the study of masculinity would take center stage.

Double load

There are also supporters of gender optics in the study of history in Russia. True, Natalya Pushkareva, a specialist in the Middle Ages, began to deal with the position of women in Ancient Russia back in the eighties, without even realizing that her topic would fit into a new scientific discipline.

The gender approach to the history of the Soviet state, in turn, allowed researchers to take a fresh look at the everyday experience of Soviet people, which is closely associated with violence: repression, suppression of dissent, and egalitarianism. For Soviet women, in addition to other dangers and pressure from the state, life was also associated with reproductive violence. At the official level, they were constantly encouraged to bear children - since the 1930s it has been described as a necessary part of the life of any citizen. At some stages of the existence of the USSR, Soviet women were directly restricted in their rights: from 1936 to 1956, abortions were prohibited, while many did not have access to contraception and information about contraception.At some point, the only way to plan a family for women in the USSR was abortion, during the period of the ban - clandestine.

Constant compulsion to bear children was combined in the Soviet state with compulsion to work. In fact, this meant that a woman was obliged to be family-oriented, to look after the house and children, and at the same time to work - often due to the fact that it was unbearable to cope with these tasks, the grandmothers had to deal with the children. Researchers refer to such a situation of extreme overload with different tasks by the term “double load”.


Five books

Over the years, the subject matter of women's and gender history has become more complex. In the first half of the nineties, a five-volume collection "The History of Women in the West from Antiquity to the Twentieth Century" was published, edited by Georges Duby and Michel Perrault, which collected twenty years of research on the status of women at different times - from antiquity to the twentieth century. According to the editors, the task of the collection was not only to make women visible, but also to ask new questions, to show events not statically, but in dynamics. The books pay a lot of attention to the daily life of women, their participation in the life of society and the specifics of gender roles. The authors also do not claim to be universal, the geography of the collection is limited to Europe and North America (by the way, Russia is there too).

Around the same time, the International Federation of Researchers of Women's History (IFRWH) appeared - it includes associations from thirty-seven countries, from India to the United States, from South Korea to Russia. Science continues to develop - for example, by the beginning of the 2000s, the interest of researchers gradually shifted from describing private life to studying how the private and the public are combined in the history of women, how women master the "non-female" spheres, make their way into politics and science. Interest has also emerged in sexuality (critics say that coverage of this topic was sorely lacking in the five-volume history of women), the control and limitation of sexuality and violence - for example, military conflicts can be viewed through the prism of military rape.

In the 2000s, like the feminist movement, gender history becomes intersectional, taking into account the concepts of religion, origin, economic situation; examining the influence of different cultures and globalization on the concept of gender and on the roles that society assigns to men and women. In addition, researchers today are interested in migration and how this process is influenced by ideas about gender and gender stereotypes.

To emphasize how much of a role the “male gaze” played throughout history, feminists in the 1970s suggested using the term “herstory” instead of “history” (“her story” instead of “his story”). The word has not become common, but it is used from time to time when it comes to the achievements of women, in the names of feminist projects or in pop culture - for example, drag diva Ru Paul often uses it. But this witty word-formation reflects the desire for equality - both of historians and women themselves..

Photos: loc.gov, wikimedia (1, 2)


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