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Gender Differences Throughout History Essay

964 words - 4 pages

Through investigations of writers as diverse as Silvia Federici, and Angela Davis, Maria Mies, and Sharon Hays, Judith Butler, and Steven Gregory we have come to understand that confronting the categorization of gender differences is a complex and nuanced project. Whether one is an ontologist, exploring the metaphysical nature of gender differences (that may or may not lead down the road of essentialism) or a phenomenologist exploring how exactly it is that one “does” gender—to the extent that there even exists a concept called gender—one must employ a varied and multipartite approach. Writers such as Federici, Mies, and Davis sketched out a framework of the history of gender roles for us. From what Federici calls a time of primitive consumption through feudalism, to the time of slavery and rapid industrialization and, indeed, through our current technological revolution, we have seen the basic gender differences between the sexes evolve over time. To be sure, our notions of what is expected from both women and men have changed since prehistoric times, and they continue to evolve. Sharon Hays in the chapter “Pyramids of Innequality” of her book Flat Broke with Children: Women in the Age of Welfare Reform shows us how, in the United States, poverty and access to the social safety net have been raced and gendered. She provides a springboard for further investigation.
The study of gender and its historical analysis has, itself, evolved. Linda Kerber in her essay Seperate Spheres, Female Worlds, Woman’s Place: The Rhetoric of Women’s History argues that the metaphor of a separate women’s sphere which she traces back to the Victorian era and to de Tocqueville’s analysis of America—and which may, indeed, have been useful at one point, in order to doth the coil of male dominance and oppression—has outlived it’s usefulness and become inherently problematic. Writing at about the time that the concept of Intersectionality was beginning to take root as a tool of theoretical analysis, Kerber demonstrates that one of the glaring limitations of the separate spheres trope is that it allows historians to avoid thinking about race and class by myopically focusing on the sphere of white middle-class women. Joan Scott, whose essay Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis appears just a few years prior to Kerber’s, demonstrates that by drawing from other diverse disciplines (anthropology, cultural studies, economics, literary criticism) historians can show how knowledge, power, and indeed identity can be shaped by the category of gender. Echoing other poststructuralists of the time, Scott tells us that gender is, in point of fact, part of a larger system of relationships, and it links together the forces of ideology, normative behavior, political action, and identity formation. Scott breaks with tradition and suggests that gender is defined in relation to other cultural and ideological forms and not tied to any...

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