Gender and the Politics of History

Gender and the Politics of History

Gender and the Politics of History

Gender and the Politics of History

Synopsis

Winner, in the original edition, of the 1989 Joan Kelly Prize of the American Historical Association, this landmark work from a renowned feminist historian is a trenchant critique of women's history and gender inequality. Exploring topics ranging from language and gender to the politics of work and family, Gender and the Politics of History is a crucial interrogation of the uses of gender as a tool for cultural and historical analysis.

The revised edition -- in addition to providing a new generation of readers with access to a classic text in feminist theory and history -- reassesses the book's fundamental topic: the category of gender. In provocatively arguing that gender no longer serves to destabilize our understanding of sexual difference, the new preface and new chapter open a critical dialogue with the original book.

Excerpt

“Gender” was a controversial term at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China in the fall of 1995. In the weeks before the meeting convened, a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives held hearings at which Republican congressmen and delegates from right-to-life groups pointed to the subversive implications of “gender.” The speakers warned that morality and family values were under attack by those who believed that there might be as many as five genders (men, women, homosexuals, bisexuals, and transsexuals). And they insisted that the UN program for the Beijing Conference had been hijacked by “gender feminists, who believe that everything we think of as natural, including manhood and womanhood, femininity and masculinity, motherhood and fatherhood, heterosexuality, marriage and family, are only culturally created ‘fixes,’ originated by men to oppress women. These feminists profess that such roles have been socially constructed and are therefore subject to change.” Within the UN, the controversy was such that the Commission on the Status of Women had earlier set up a contact group to seek agreement on “the commonly understood meaning of ‘gender,’” and to convey its conclusions “directly to the Conference in Beijing.” Disagreement between those who insisted on a strictly biological definition and those who wanted to refer to the “socially constructive [sic] roles of men and women” led to an entirely uninformative resolution, which was nonetheless offered as an appendix to the Program of Action of the conference. The “Statement on the Commonly Understood Meaning of the Term ‘Gender’” reads as follows:

Having considered the issue thoroughly, the contact group noted that
(1) the word “gender” had been commonly used and understood in its

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