Feminism, the Public and the Private

By Joan B. Landes | Go to book overview
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Regarding Some 'Old Husbands' Tales': Public and Private in Feminist History

Leonore Davidoff

There is no easy passage from 'women' to 'humanity'

( Denise Riley, 1988)


A central platform of feminist critique and attempted revision of mainstream thought has focused on the construction and boundaries of classifications: of femininity and masculinity, women and men, woman and man. These classifications have in turn been linked to the construction of other highly significant categories, the complicated--and slippery--notions of public and private.

The everyday usage of a public and private distinction has led to much confusion. When feminists, mainly anthropologists, first

Excerpts from Chapter 8 in Leonore Davidoff, Worlds Between: Historical Perspectives on Gender and Class ( Polity Press, 1995). Copyright Blackwell Publishers Ltd ( 1995). Reprinted by permission. The main arguments in this essay were first presented to the interdisciplinary symposium, 'The Construction of Sex/Gender: What is a Feminist Perspective?', Swedish Council for Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Stockholm, 1990. The thoughtful discussions around subsequent presentations in Britain, Norway, the USA, and Australia offered many useful new insights. A brief version was published in Passato e Presente, 27 (Sept.-Dec. 1991), and L'Homme: Zeitschrift für feministische Geschichtswissenschaft ( 1993). The present version incorporates many of the ideas published in my article, "'Adam Spoke First and Named the Orders of the World: Masculine and Feminine Domains in History and Sociology'", in Helen Corr and Lynn Jamieson (eds.), The Politics of Everyday Life. Continuity and Change in Work and Family ( London: Macmillan, 1990).

I am grateful for advice and suggestions about these ideas from discussion with Carole Adams, Monika Bernold, Barbara Caine, Delfina Dolza, Christe Hammerle, Alice Kessler-Harris, Catherine Hall, David Lee, Jane Lewis, Susan Margarey, Jill Matthews, Jane Rendall, Sonya Rose, Alison Scott, Eleni Varikas, Ulla Wikander, and especially to my colleague Ludmilla Jordanova for her critical but always supportive suggestions. Diana Gittins provided invaluable editorial critique. Finally, my thanks to Citlali Rouirusa, who provided the title.


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