European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

Synopsis

This ambitious book explores challenges to male hegemony throughout continental Europe. It focuses especially on France, but it also offers comparative material on developments in the German-speaking countries and in the smaller European nations and aspiring nation-states. Spanning 250 years, the sweeping coverage extends from Portugal to Poland, Greece to Finland, Ireland to Ukraine, and Spain to Scandinavia -- as well as international and transnational feminist organizations.

The study has several objectives. For general readers and those interested primarily in the historical record, it provides a comprehensive, comparative account of feminist developments in European societies, as well as a rereading of European history from a feminist perspective. By placing gender, or relations between women and men, at the center of European politics, where the author argues that it belongs but from which it has long been marginalized, the book aims to reconfigure our understanding of the European past and to make visible a long but neglected tradition of feminist thought and politics.

On another level, by providing a broad and accurate historical analysis, the book seeks to disentangle some misperceptions and to demystify some confusing contemporary debates about the Enlightenment, reason, nature, equality vs. difference, and public vs. private, among others. The author argues that historical feminisms offer us far more than logical paradoxes and contradictions; feminisms are about sexual politics, not philosophy. Feminist victories are not, strictly speaking, about getting the argument right, nor is gender merely "a useful category of analysis"; sexual difference lies at the heart of humanthought and politics.

Excerpt

This book will explore challenges to male hegemony from 1700 to 1950 in the larger nations of continental Europe and will offer increasing comparative attention to developments in the smaller nations, aspiring nation-states, and national cultures as the twentieth century approaches. It has multiple objectives. For general readers and those interested primarily in history, it seeks both to provide a comprehensive, comparative account of feminist developments in European societies, as well as a rereading of European history not only from a woman's perspective but from a feminist perspective. By placing gender, or relations between women and men, at the center of European politics (where it surely belongs, but from which it has long been marginalized), the book intends reconfigure our understanding of Europe's history and to render visible a long but hidden tradition of feminist thought and politics.

On another level, the book addresses issues under discussion by contemporary feminist theorists, seeking to disentangle some misperceptions and to demystify some confusing debates (about the Enlightenment, about "reason" and "nature," public vs. private, about the conundrum "equality vs. difference," among others) by providing a broad and accurate historical background. Historical feminism offers us far more than paradoxes and contradictions; it is about politics, not philosophy. Feminism's victories are not, strictly speaking, about getting the argument right. Gender is not merely "a useful category of analysis"; it lies at the heart of human thought and politics. Working through history has convinced me that we must, paraphrasing John F. Kennedy, ask not what feminist theory can do for history, but what history can do for feminist theory.

By the terms "Europe" and "European," I am referring not merely to Western Europe but to a variety of nations, states, and cultures of the Eurasian continent situated on the territorial land mass west of the Ural Mountains, plus certain of the contiguous islands, and to cultures that have developed within in the Judeo-Christian tradition, primarily on the Roman Catholic/Protestant side. I am exploring debate about the rela-

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