April
9th 2010
Women’s history: we haz it, but does anyone want it?

Posted under: American history, conferences, Gender, GLBTQ, Intersectionality, jobs, race, students, women's history

Good morning, friends–today’s post is a front line dispatch from my faithful correspondent Classy Claude, who is in Washington, D.C. at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting.  Yesterday, he attended a star-studded panel, “State of the Field:  History of Women/Gender/Sexuality,” and reports that the panel and the audience ended up discussing the question, “are undergraduates interested at all in women’s history these days?”  Great question, Claude!  Everyone else, read through his report and join in the conversation below.

Classy Claude checking in from the OAH, this year in Washington, DC.  First of all, it is HOT here!  I arrived yesterday and as the plane was coming in for a landing the pilot informed us that the high was 90 degrees.  [Ed. note:  Claude--take off the suit and tie!]  This unseasonable warmth also seems to have produced a remarkably high pollen count.  I went for a run yesterday upon arrival and at the end my eyes were so red and bloodshot that Classy Claude looked more like Cannabis Claude.  And the sneezing! 

But on to matters historical… Most of my day was filled up with grad school friend reunions but I did make it to one of the OAH’s “state of the field panels,” this one of particular interest both to myself and other Historiann readers: Women/Gender/Sexuality.  The panel was moderated by Robert Self and was comprised of Nancy Cott, Nayan Shah, Stephanie McCurry, Regina Kunzel (who was ill and whose comments were delivered by Self), and Brenda Stevenson (Iris Stevenson, a DC attorney, delivered the paper that her sister, recovering from an ankle injury, was unable to give herself).

Brenda Stevenson(channeled by Iris) spoke about African American women’s history, giving a generational historiography that began with black women’s oral histories.  She ended by making a number of suggestions for areas where further research was needed, among them black women’s relationships with indigenous women; free women of color; labor and politics in the twentieth century; and black women’s sexuality now that so much had been done to debunk the myth of the hypersexual black women.  Nancy Cott began with the question of whether there was still a place for women’s history (as opposed to gender history; she believes so) and also spoke about the phases of the field over the past 30 years.   She ended by saying that while the history of gender and sexuality seems to have eclipsed women’s history in recent years she likes to think of the field as being like a mille feuilles, the French pastry composed of many layers; women’s history is the foundation and the other layers may obscure it but they also rely upon it.  [Ed. note:  This is an interesting but potentially disturbing metaphor that suggests another:  is women's history like all mothers--without her there would be no family, but ultimately she doesn't get full credit for all of her labors?]

Regina Kunzel’s remarks were primarily about the history of sexuality – and mostly same-sex sexuality – in the twentieth-century U.S.   She noted, first of all, that the field is erroneously characterized as narrow when in fact much of the best history of sexuality is completely tied to political and economic history.   The perceived narrowness, however, means that it is still remarkably difficult for people to find employment when doing dissertations on sexuality and particularly so if they are LGBT-related.  She made a number of suggestions, perhaps the strongest being that people doing queer studies need to talk more to historians and that those doing queer history need to read more interdisciplinary queer studies.  The two groups have much to learn from each other.  Nayan Shah, speaking of the intersection of transnational, immigrant, and gender/sexuality history prodded historians of women and gender to take lessons from Asian American history about things we all know already: that the nuclear family should not be used as a measuring stick for families and that state documentation of permanence (in the census, for instance) should not be believed.  We know that the nuclear family has almost never been the primary familial form and we also know that people have always been far more transient than governmental records would indicate they are. 

Finally, Stephanie McCurry spoke about gender history, saying that the category itself is among the most important innovations of the twentieth century but also her fear that undergraduate students don’t much seem to care.  As she put it about the use of “gender” as an analytic tool, “I can do gender history in any class – and I do – so long as it’s integrated into the class overall and so long as it’s not in the course title.”  Her overall query for the audience was about whether her own experience – that grad students are still interested in women and gender, but that undergrads are not – was shared by the audience. 

And it is that discussion that might interest Historiann’s loyal readers.  Most of the people teaching at large and elite schools, including Nancy Cott, tended to echo McCurry.  A number of others, including Eileen Boris at the University of California, Santa Barbara, said that students, were much more interested in courses on sexuality, that those courses always overenrolled, but that classes on “women” did not.  She also noted that students were much more interested in talking about women in the contemporary moment, but getting them to discuss almost anything historically was the problem.  One historian at the University of Victoria said that her students told her that no one was interested in women’s history anymore because there was no sexism and so no need.  The interesting counterpoint to McCurry’s experience was that of historians at larger public institutions or smaller (and perhaps less well funded?) private ones.  John D’Emilio at the University of Illinois at Chicago and another historian whose name I didn’t catch at Marshall University both said that their departments had no trouble filling classes on the history of women, gender, or sexuality.  Finally, a historian from Simmons College gave the last – and perhaps most heartening – comment of the panel.  Her textbook rep had recently told her that ze was seeing much more demand for a two-part women’s history textbook because increasing numbers of schools were offering a two-part survey instead of the standard all-in-one. 

So Historiann readers: are your undergrads signing up for classes in women’s history or only in the history of sexuality?  Are these students history majors or Women’s Studies or something else altogether?  Do your grad students (if you have them) still find gender interesting?  More so than your undergrads? 

Thanks, Claude–and thanks for not taking me on that run in Washington with you!  Ugh.  Believe it or not, people around here are still skiing in the mountains!  I can’t wait to hear what la Gallerie des Arachides d’Historiann (the Historiann Peanut Gallery) has to say about your questions.

41 Comments »

41 Responses to “Women’s history: we haz it, but does anyone want it?”

  1. Janice on 09 Apr 2010 at 6:49 am #

    Let’s chip in for some antihistamines for poor Claude! Thanks for the report, makes me feel as if I were there instead of glumly regarding our second day of snowfall (we set a record yesterday, apparently, go us!).

    We get a lot of take-up by undergrads in women’s history but mostly because we offer 3 term-long courses in women’s history through our distance ed program. So they can take one course/term as distance ed and this often ends up as one of our surveys (women in the western world to 1500, women in the west since 1500, national women’s history). Some of those are offered on campus to decent enrolments but nowhere near those of our conventional surveys in national history, say.

    Now, I started a new senior seminar this year on gender in early modern Europe. Lowest enrolment for me EVER for a senior seminar. (And we’re talking almost twenty years of ever, here, so I have quite a data point.) My colleagues all have 20-30% more students in their seminars, so I know it’s particular to this course. I even had some students say “Why aren’t you offering the seminars in Tudor & Stuart Britain? I would have taken those!” (Because I just ran those last year and I will die of boredom if I teach the same classes year after year.)

    I feel moderately guilty but, damn!, the gender seminar was awesome to teach, even with fewer than twenty students. Great readings, great debates, great presentation topics!

  2. Notorious Ph.D. on 09 Apr 2010 at 6:50 am #

    My course on ancient & medieval women always enrolls enough people to make it run, but often it’s a “just barely” thing — usually I have about 25-30 students, in a course that I offer every two years, in a major of 400 undergrads.

    Then again, the problem may not be the “women” as the “not U.S./not 20th century”.

    Either that, or word has gotten out about me…

  3. Perpetua on 09 Apr 2010 at 6:51 am #

    We recently had a truncated version of this same discussion in my department, when thinking about future hires. Well, really the “gender” camp did the discussing – mostly talking about how “no one” was interested in women’s history anymore. I didn’t speak up at the time because it was a conversation before the real conversation about the hire (if that makes sense), but I’m mentally preparing a thorough argument about why they’re *wrong*. I have taught women’s history classes at two institutions. I’m not in fact an historian of women, though I do integrate gender analysis into my work. But I’m committed to continuing to teach women’s history, and happened to be at institutions where no one else was offering said courses. I’ve never had any trouble filling them, even though “gender” does not appear anywhere in the title and I teach it as a fairly straight-up social history course. Now, my students tend to be largely from women’s studies rather than history, but still – the course fills. There aren’t any “gender” courses being offered in my subfield either (basically I’m the only person who teaches either, and I’ve opted for a women’s history class in which we address the issue of gender, though I’m thinking of adding a “Sex in the Pre-Modern World” class, so we can talk about biology and sexuality as well as lived experience and social norms), so I can’t speak the popularity of one over the other. I can see why undergrads would be more drawn to a sexuality class – or any class with a sexy title, rather than a more stodgy-sounding “Women in Medieval Europe.” But the title is the thing, because, at least among my students, nobody actually understands the difference between SEX and GENDER. So it’s possible that they see “gender” and assume it’s a women’s history class anyway. (My biggest pet peeve this year is people asking me if I know my baby’s “gender” – yes I understand because this is 21st century America my child must be ruthlessly gendered from the moment of birth, but can’t ze be *left in peace* during hir prepartum days? Oh, you want to know what *sex organs* the baby has – easier to answer.)

    I’m also a big fan of folding women’s history into “regular” history classes so that everyone gets some. I was appalled to discover in a graduate seminar that only one out of five students had any experience in or knowledge about either women’s or gender history, and now it is a forceful part of my graduate curriculum. You may not do it, but you have to *know* something about it. They don’t appear to be resisting my efforts, although some of them clearly dislike the more literary studies on gender we read.

  4. Jacob on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:18 am #

    I think Perpetua hit the nail on the head. I have spoken with a number of people (mostly undergrads) who have had the misconception that “gender” equates to “women.” They seem to have missed that there are two genders.

  5. Jacob on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:24 am #

    That last sentence didn’t say exactly what I meant it to. Let me try again:
    They seem to have missed that gender history includes masculinity as well.

  6. Matt L on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:38 am #

    Thanks for the conference update classy Claude!

    I think there is an interesting question here. Are students resistant to taking womens’ history and gender history, or do they just not know they are interested in it? (Let me try paraphrasing Trotsky here… Students might not be interested in Gender, but Gender is definitely interested in them…)

  7. Perpetua on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Holy sh$t you guys, check this out:

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2010/04/08/males

    A WHOLE CENTER dedicated to defending patriarchy and misogyny! Awesome! And here we’re sitting around talking about whether women’s history needs to be taught, when it turns out what we really need to be teaching is about those poor MENZ about whom we clearly do not *hear enough good things.*

  8. Kelly on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:53 am #

    My class on Religion and Gender, which covers both women and men, has been full to the brim at a variety of different institutions. This is not because students overwhelming were excited to learn about gender but practically because the course fit diversity and cultural requirements as well as their literature requirement. Interestingly, my discussion of gender in my American Studies intro was a disaster this semester, and most of my students, young women and men, were reticent to discuss gender as an analytical tool, historical precedence or lived reality. Some of them are so “over” gender, which I find a bit strange and considerably disturbing. Or as one student noted an article that we covered in class was about women slaves on rice plantations and just because women were the subject matter the author was obviously a raging “feminist,” which I think ze construes as a bad word.

    On a slightly unrelated note, Salon posted a piece (http://www.salon.com/life/gender_roles/index.html?story=/mwt/broadsheet/2010/04/09/men_studies_male_studies ) about the emergence of “male studies” this morning, which I am still puzzling over. I am a religious studies/American studies scholar by trade who studies masculinity and fraternal orders along with religious intolerance, and the desire to create male studies to counteract women’s studies proves troubling to me, especially since I already have beef with how men’s studies is often conceptualized.

  9. Historiann on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:12 am #

    Kelly–see Perpetua’s link above, which seems to be the same stuff. I had to double-check the date on that story (April Fool’s Day?), because the absurdity of the topic was just too much. (But, it turns out that there really is a Rutgers Anthropologist named “Lionel Tiger” after all. Curioser and Curiouser, as Alice might say!)

    Mine is a department that now offers an American women’s history survey that spans 2 semesters–I teach the one that ends in 1800, and my colleague Ruth Alexander teaches the 1800-present section. My class has filled both times I’ve taught it so far–I’m not sure that I can continue to teach it every year (I might need to teach it every 2 years), but so far, there is strong interest in the field, which surprises me because I don’t get the sense that my work is that much in demand in the larger historical profession (women’s history = modern history, of course, and early American history does not have anything to do with women, gender, or sexuality.)

    I think Nancy Cott’s comments (via Claude above) are interesting–she seems to share my fear that we may see (as in the case of “male studies”) gender history without women, either as a sin of omission or comission it matters not. This concerns me becuase (as I said on a similar panel last year at the OAH and at the Omohundro Institute Conference in Salt Lake City) of the fact that we are now just getting a critical mass of black and brown women’s history. I don’t like to think that now that we’ve “remembered the [white] ladies,” that women’s history is over.

  10. Notorious Ph.D. on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:15 am #

    Just read the article that Perpetua links to. Argh. I can see why the more legitimate gender studies types interested in men and masculinity are chagrined. There is important work on men to be done in the field of gender studies in general, but this ain’t it.

  11. Historiann on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:21 am #

    And p.s. to Matt’s paraphrase of Trotsky: hah! Good one.

    I think women’s history classes have always raised uncomfortable questions for undergraduates, especially around considering their mother’s lives and choices. There have always been a lot of students who didn’t want to think about that terribly hard. I wonder if my pre-1800 class has been reasonably popular precisely because most students will probably agree that women before 1800 had it rough–but if they take a more recent women’s history class, they might have to consider how maybe they don’t yet live in the awesome postfeminist world we hoped would have happened by now.

  12. Western Dave on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:41 am #

    I think some of it has to do with the crappy way women’s history is handled in the K-12 curriculum. A lot of students are left saying “we learned about suffrage and Rosie the riveter, the 50s and bra-burning,” what else is there? And OMG, don’t even get me started on the gender vs. sex thing. Teaching in a girls’ school you’d think we’d have this stuff down but no, horribly the whole NAIS world seems to think that sex and gender are synonyms.

  13. Martha on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:58 am #

    My students think that women’s history can be divided into two sections. First, women didn’t have the vote, and were “treated like property.” Then they got the vote, and all problems were solved. Yay!

    As an aside, our women’s history courses fill, but our department is so understaffed that if I offered a course titled “The Very Boring History of Dust,” it would fill, too.

  14. m Andrea on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:18 am #

    Why would Black people lose interest in Black history? Even IF racism disappeared, wouldn’t all types of people from different groups still be interested in hearing about the past? So “lack of present day racism” is not a likely explanation, but it does disguise a more probable reason — people would only lose interest if they wanted to avoid acknowledging the existence of oppression at all.

    Sexism is far too painful for most people to contemplate, because it’s not about one group inferioritizing some other group who lives accross town. The study of sex based oppression requires that one confront the idea that men have (and still continue) to oppress those they claim to love. Studying sexism, for a woman, requires she reconcile her own love for men with their subversive contempt for her. This creates gross cognitive dissonance.

    The social narrative for all other oppressed groups is “you’re inferior”, full stop. They know other ethnicites hate them — there is no ambiguity; and they can take solace and find support within their own group. However, the social narrative for sexism is “we love you and so you should love us, we view you as an equal so you should view us an equal but you’re still inferior”. It’s much more difficult to fight for freedom when you actively love your oppressor, and it’s much more difficult to even identify oppression at all when the oppressor is busy disguising that exploitation as liberation.

    Perhaps if women’s studies tried addressing this dictonomy and also provide some coping skills, then more woman could then renew their interest in our own history. Perhaps women’s studies already addresses this issue, but I never hear anything about it.

  15. ej on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:28 am #

    My Women’s History classes always enroll significantly lower than my “regular” courses, but this seems to make sense because while our majors overall are equally divided among men and women, very few men enroll in my Women’s History courses. I guess they think it doesn’t pertain to them. So I don’t think its a case of no interest, just a more focused target audience, if that makes sense? I believe that Claude teaches both “Women’s” and “Gender” courses-he might be able to speak to whether or not “Gender” has a similar sex-specific appeal.

  16. clio's disciple on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:47 am #

    My women’s history courses have had decent enrollments of both male and female students. The enrollments have not been as high as courses about violent things, however (the Crusades, etc.). One thing I have found interesting is that, when I give assignments in survey classes allowing students to explore topics on their own, many of them pick topics in women’s history. And it is definitely women, not gender. For context, I teach at a small liberal arts college.

  17. Historiann on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Wow–thanks for all of your comments and thoughts. I think Martha and Western Dave are onto something: if students see women’s history as just a truncated history of feminist activism (suffrage achived, our mission here is done!) then anything outside of that narrow view will be seen as irrelevant to the broader picture of human history. And as Martha notes, it’s much easier and more fun to pretend that we’re all postfeminist now!

    m Andrea’s comment is really important–I think ze’s right that few other sub-fields in history suffer from the kind of questioning and doubt that women’s history does. Judith Butler nailed it now 20 years ago when she pointed out that “women” are hardly a unified subject or political constituency–and that there are myriad, unresolvable tensions in trying to assert that women ARE some kind of stable and unified subject/constituency.

    And yet we must insist that there’s something unifying, because other historians are perfectly happy to ignore half of the human race. No one else will do it. When a bunch of smart women started asking questions about women in history, the historical profession said, “oh, well that’s not important, and there’s no evidence anyway.” Then, when people went out and wrote women’s history, they were lectured (by tools like Lawrence Stone, among others) that they were “ignoring half of the human race!” And “ZOMG what about the menz!!!11!!!”

  18. Dr. Crazy on 09 Apr 2010 at 10:18 am #

    For students and their resistance to courses in women’s/gender history, or women’s/gender studies generally… I wonder if part of this is that they don’t experience sex/gender as *primary* identity categories for them. (This came to mind when I read m Andrea’s comment about race… though I’m not directly responding to her comment.) Let’s say that students choose to enroll in courses for three primary reasons: reason 1 is to learn what they think they’re “supposed to know” or what “educated people should know”; reason 2 is to learn about themselves, about some aspect of their own experience through which they conceive their sense of their own identities; reason 3 is to learn about something that is completely alien to their own experience but that they find interesting.

    If those are the three primary motivators (and as a thought experiment let’s say that they are, though I’m not sure how committed to those categories I would be if I gave it more thought), then it kind of makes sense that women’s/gender history would fall through the cracks. It doesn’t fit into reason 1 (because, don’t you know, “women’s” experience isn’t universal, and the things “educated people should know” are, by definition), universal. It doesn’t fit into reason 2 (I suspect many students would conceive of sex/gender as things that “just are” and would be more inclined to conceive their identity through their affiliations with other things, such as race, class, religious values, or even the kind of music they like). It doesn’t fit into reason 3 (although this is exactly contrary to reason 2) because sex/gender are “given” parts of their identities, and so if they want to explore something alien to them, courses focused on sex/gender don’t fit the bill.

    In other words, sex/gender-focused courses fail at being universal, fail at being about the student hirself, and also fail at being “other” enough to interest students. I’m not sure where I’m going with this, but this does seem to be a plausible possible explanation for how students might perceive these courses.

  19. Meaghan on 09 Apr 2010 at 11:01 am #

    I’m an undergrad in a small, majority female gender class. It is also the only history class at Isolated U which deals with a basically analytical/theoretical framework, instead of the usual geographic or period surveys. I think some people find this intimidating. On the other hand, I think a lot of my fellow classmates walked into ‘gender history’ expecting ‘women’s history’ which if they haven’t figured out the difference by now, then my prof is going to have a fun time marking our exam on Monday.

    On the gender vs. sex issue, all of my grad school applications asked for my gender and only two gave me a non-male/female option like trans or unknown.

    As for male studies, I understand that feminist thought, women’s history and gender history are all steps forward for the status of not just women, but also society and academic thought. It worries me when people consider it a step backwards.

  20. Vance Maverick on 09 Apr 2010 at 2:41 pm #

    Nothing to add directly — but yes, Lionel Tiger is real, and he has written at least one book with Robin Fox. (A bit like Alpher, Bethe and Gamow.)

  21. FrauTech on 09 Apr 2010 at 3:07 pm #

    Lack of interest from undergrads might be because they are at a stage in their lives where they haven’t perceived sexism…yet. Probably they have been treated in a sexist way, but for the most part up through college, and in most (middle class) places, I think there’s still this bubble that the sexes are equal now. I think they figure women can do any job men can now, and are allowed to work or not work when they have children. I think grad students, having more of a “job” to do, are more exposed to institutionalized sexism or group sexism. Undergrads might have encountered it, but may have attributed it to personality or may have just internalized it as normal. I know my big shock wasn’t until after college. I guess in some ways it’s nice that I as a young women felt equal to my male peers in everything; intelligence, opportunity, up until that age which is better than the previous generation though it was still a rude awakening when I went to work for MegaCorp.

  22. Indyanna on 09 Apr 2010 at 7:55 pm #

    I was 50+/- miles northeast of D.C. yesterday and the pollen was pouring off trees like greenish Dust Bowl storms, visibly accumulating on cars like the snows of February.

    The undergraduates who I encounter, men and women, seem to be as interested in *hearing* about women as about men, they just don’t think that history is an “analytic” discipline in the ways we mean when we use that term. So a “categories of analysis” approach to the discipline seems largely lost on them, and–as chagrinning as that may seem–that’s pretty much the way I remember things from collegiate days too. That’s not to say that a good deal of analysis can’t be worked into them, they just get very restive at the kinds of technical analytic tools they’d simply take for granted in, say, science. The stereotypical or caricatured courses against which we often measure the ones we’d like to teach, the “North African Tank Battles” type of curricula that are popular among history majors and non-majors alike, pretty much lay off of overt analysis, but seem to get pretty good traction in the collegiate imagination. I’m not quite sure what can be done about this; some of it seems to be a development stage issue, intellectually. An earlier version of me made very junior gen. ed. students in a required survey course read _Vindication of the Rights of Women_. They went through the motions of hating it, then wrote reasonably engaged and interesting short essays about it, then pronounced it as something they had hated. I’m not at all sure what to think the long-range “outcome” of that experiment may have been.

    On a slightly unrelated topic, my invited talk at SLAC yesterday was held in a big auditorium in the college’s science building. On the way in I saw a poster with pictures of the Biology department’s 2009 graduating majors. 20 of 25 were women. I asked the chair of the History Dept. on the way out what to make of this and ze said it partly reflected the overall enrollment of the institition, which ze said was about 60%+ female, but certainly nowhere near 80%. Ze said that the biology majors’ ratio would hold also for chemistry but not at all for physics. This was the subject of some recent threads here and I just throw that out for whatever it signifies. The chair said the ratio for history would be slightly under 50% women. At my school it would be more like 33%.

  23. Comrade PhysioProf on 09 Apr 2010 at 8:09 pm #

    That sounds pretty fucking interesting. Scientists tend to be much less introspective than that, and rarely engage in analysis of why we study what we study, whether what we study makes sense to study, and what the extra-scientific influences are that point us in the directions we go.

  24. L on 09 Apr 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    Evidence as to why undergraduates may not be interested in women’s history, but also why they clearly need to know some:

    http://badgerherald.com/artsetc/2010/04/08/in_the_battle_of_the.php

  25. Knitting Clio on 10 Apr 2010 at 4:51 am #

    My women’s history classes are always full with a waiting list. Most are history majors, a few are WGSS minors.

  26. Historiann on 10 Apr 2010 at 6:05 am #

    Based on your reports here, it sounds like Classy Claude might be onto something with his suggestion that interest in women’s history may vary widely across different institutions. Indyanna’s comment about students being agnostic about women’s vs. men’s history, but uncomfortable with gender as an analytical category, is interesting. I hadn’t considered that before.

    FrauTech–I think you’re right that college women don’t want to hear that the evil claw of patriarchy will get you too, my pretties. . . I graduated from college 20 years ago, but I can relate. I was confident that all of the problems for women had been solved by the brave generations that preceded mine, and that women of my generation (X) could just coast into awesome careers and awesome lives. I think educational institutions have eliminated crude sex bias pretty effectively, so there may well be little reason for high school students or college women to think they’ll face institutionalized discrimination after college. But, everything changes once they hit the workforce. (Like you, that’s what radicalized me, and made me realize that the women’s history I was teaching was a LOT more continuous with my own workplace experiences than I ever wanted it to be!)

  27. Feminist Avatar on 10 Apr 2010 at 6:22 am #

    I also wonder whether a reluctance to sign up to womens and/or gender classes is a lack of awareness of what that course would be about. Whereas a survey course of ‘US History’ might bring to mind some major events- Boston Tea-party, revolution and civil war, black folks, white folks, first people folks- if you have never really had any engagement with women’s history then what springs to mind? Perhaps suffrage and not much more? I am guessing they don’t think ooh, I could learn about women at the Boston Tea-party, or black women in the civil rights movement or women in the revolutionary war- because they have never made the connection that that is what women’s history is (and a whole lot more). Similarly, when have young people before university ever been asked to consider male as a gender? Male is default; women is gender.

    Of course, it used to be said that we longed for the day when women’s history courses didn’t need to exist as women and a gender analysis would be a standard part of every history course…

  28. Historiann on 10 Apr 2010 at 6:29 am #

    Feminist Avatar–even when (or if??? I’m skeptical!) that day arrives, I think separate women’s history courses would still be useful. Drilling down to focus on one part of the population of the globe is what all upper-division history courses do–whether by time period, geography, nation, or some other shared affinity.

  29. Some Academics Build a Treehouse « Jacobpedia on 10 Apr 2010 at 6:59 am #

    [...] Perpetua in the comments on a post on Historiann’s [...]

  30. Feminist Avatar on 10 Apr 2010 at 7:44 am #

    Yeah, to be honest, I think that will always be the case too. I think that when such claims were made, women’s history was seen to be filling gaps in traditional history- whereas now it is an full field in it’s own right. It turns out that women have a history that is independent of traditional histories as well as being part of major historical events. Part of this has also been the way women’s history has reconceptualised how we view the past- so it is no longer enough to add women but to change how we do history. Now, perhaps, the argument would be that all historians should learn to reconceptualise how they view the world, but given we also need to be sensitive to race, sexuality, space, economics, and numerous other theoretical approaches, how we fit all this into a single curriculum on a single course might become impractical. I would however like to be proven wrong on this.

  31. Feminist Avatar on 10 Apr 2010 at 7:58 am #

    Perhaps the way round this is not to try to do everything but to acknowledge what we do and don’t do explicitly. ‘This is my course and I look these women, using this type of theory; this is not the only approach. It would also be possible to look at these other women, using other types of theory’. If this became good practice in all courses, it would hopefully eradicate- or at least make explicit the politics of- those courses which teach traditional history as if that was all to be said on the subject, without giving consideration to women or race or theory or whatever. Perhaps, it’s about laying bare the politics of teaching history to your students, rather than trying to do everything.

  32. m Andrea on 10 Apr 2010 at 8:04 am #

    Is there a stage of developement where young Blacks are not interested in learning about Black history? Do Blacks think a course on Black history would be limited to hearing about Malcolm X? Does learning about Black history require too much of an analytical perspective for Black youth? Do Black people lack an interest in Black history because they think “we are all equal now”? Do Black people believe racism was eliminated with the passage of the 15th amendment? Do Black people lack an interest in Black history because a more dispassionate perspective is required?

    Many of these reasons which are being used to explain women’s lack of interest, simply do not appear so reasonable when we consider how other groups would respond. It becomes obvious they are excuses. Perhaps you’re avoiding something!

  33. m Andrea on 10 Apr 2010 at 8:11 am #

    Why would Black people not want to learn about their own history of subjegation by white people who claim to love them?

  34. Susan on 10 Apr 2010 at 8:40 am #

    Whatever courses I teach include gender as a category. When a colleague was teaching our required Historiography class and talking about women and gender, one of my students interrupted and said, “When I took Prof. Susan’s course, gender was just woven throughout”. And I thought, Yes, he got it!

  35. Feminist Avatar on 10 Apr 2010 at 8:58 am #

    Recognising that you have a history that is separate from the master narrative is a political act. And, from the numerous discussions we’ve had on the fact that young woman are no longer politicised, it may well be that they don’t recognise that they have or ‘need’ a separate history. I mean if they are equal in everyday life- surely they are equally represented on standard history courses? I think part of that is an ability to see what their history would look like- because they aren’t being politicised before they get to university.

    On the other hand, I don’t think it has yet been suggested that black students deny that racism exists. In many ways, race continues to be a much more political issue and many black young people appear to be politically engaged- as can be seen in the popular culture of some groups of black youth. That they would demand and have expectation of black history courses to reflect their politics is not surprising.

  36. Matt L on 10 Apr 2010 at 11:55 am #

    I have to say that this discussion about gender and women’s history is great. It shows why gender is such a compelling frame of analysis. But I would also like to suggest that Gender and Women’s History will always be an ‘uncanny’ part of the historical profession. I really like Dr. Krazy’s three reasons why undergraduates take a history class.

    Academic historians, but especially women’s historians are always fighting the prevailing culture’s understanding of what it means to do history. Deep down, most non-historians like the kind of history books that were written by Ranke: great man history, or nation state history. If you take gender and women seriously, its going to upend these universal political, economic and social development narratives. That bugs people a lot, most of the popular culture still likes its history whiggish and safe.

    Our students are profoundly imbued with this lingering historicism. A one semester class is not going to change that.

  37. truffula on 10 Apr 2010 at 1:52 pm #

    The thread through this about students evaluating the worth of particular courses is interesting. It must connect with the conversation last week regarding the level of difficulty anticipated for particular courses but I’m not sure how.

    At first read, Dr. Crazy’s list of three bases for decision-making seemed to me very idealistic relative to the more consumer-oriented views discussed last week. The best connection is with the first question, “is this something I need to know?” but perhaps “is gaining this knowledge worth the effort?” enters into the decision as well. Maybe students see these courses as modern and thus challenging the status quo, and are simply not willing to put in the effort to do that.

    As an aside, comments repeatedly singling out the same example “other” group make me uncomfortable, as does what in a few comments seems like blaming young women for their own lack of worldliness. I don’t know if it’s that young women don’t want to hear about it or simply have not yet heard about it. As Historiann notes, college campuses are relatively free of crude sex bias (and rape is hushed up). Heck, I know women my own age who blithely deny sex bias in the academy (and point out their own personal success as proof). Why should I expect students half their age to have a better handle on the state of affairs?

  38. m Andrea on 10 Apr 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Are Black youth unaware of racism as they progress through the educational system? Do students believe there is a reason they need to be aware of Black history? Do Black people find it offensive when a mere inconvenience is compared with a global atrocity?

    What is the only differential between racism and sexism? Because if someone is genuinely looking for a reason that young women aren’t as interested in feminism or feminist history, the one difference might be a place to start looking — unless someone can’t bear the idea that men have never loved women as equals. The greeks had a name for love between equals (philia or brotherly love). They also had a name for the love shown to the family pet (storge).

    Men have never loved you.

  39. Mickey on 12 Apr 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Hmmm…interesting questions. I am currently a first year grad student…but I came straight from undergrad so Im not far removed. I know that for my peers, in the Pacific NW, there was definitely an interest in gender. However, it wasn’t really gender as equating women or gender as equating men. We are were all a lot more interested in gender presentations and the way that people display gender (aesthetically for the most part) in ways that are different from or the same as normative constructions of what it means to be a man or a woman. So, yes, we were interested. Were we particularly interested in “women’s history”? Well, I think the way its been narrowly defined here, I would say no. But our interest in the subject hasnt waned.

  40. Historiann on 12 Apr 2010 at 10:02 am #

    Please explain “narrowly defined.” Women are more than half of the population–so that seems like a pretty big category to me.

  41. m Andrea on 12 Apr 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    So I like to beat a dead horse, and please keep in mind that while I do read this blog regularly now, mostly I keep my opinions to myself. You’re welcome!

    Do Blacks study the presentation of Black culture? Really do they? Do they think that discussing the various Black fashions and Black slang is the same as discussing racism or identifying and deconstructing racist ideology? I’m sure fashion is quite a fascinating subject, but it’s not exactly the same as identifying racism — and in fact if discussing fashion is all anti-racism consisted of, then there’d be some Black folks going “WTF is wrong with you, my brother?”