History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism

By Judith M. Bennett | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Conclusion: For Whom Are We Doing
Feminist History?

Like most historians, I feel more comfortable thinking about the past than speculating on the future. This book began with recollections of my first encounters with women’s history in the 1970s, and it has built its argument around both history per se (especially medieval history) and the history of feminist history-writing in the last thirty years. I know how to do the past; doing the future is much harder. But if you have come this far with me, you know that this book is not about nostalgia or melancholy; it is about assessing what we have done right, where we have gone off track, and how we might do better. I have been inspired throughout by Barbara Christian’s question, posed in the late 1980s to feminist literary critics and evoked here in the title of this conclusion.1


The feminism of feminist history

Universities are feminist battlegrounds that understandably divert historians of women and gender away from such in-the-street feminist issues as economic equity, reproductive rights, and domestic violence and toward more internal, academic issues. Thus, we seek to integrate women’s experiences into mainstream history, to hire more women faculty, to ensure that our campuses are safer, to create curricula that speak to the interests of all students, and to improve the status of women on our campuses. These are important, indeed crucial, issues that rightly absorb our energies. But they are not sufficient. As feminist historians, we are obliged to juggle two agendas: first, to eradicate the misogynistic traditions of academia in their many, entrenched forms, and second, to explain to feminists more generally—from our privileged position as researchers and teachers—how history can help us understand women’s oppression and work toward its final eradication.

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