European Feminisms, 1700-1950: A Political History

By Karen Offen | Go to book overview

Preface

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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