Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis | Study Guide

Joan W. Scott

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Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis | Quotes


Interest in class, race, and gender signaled ... commitment to ... stories of the oppressed.

Joan W. Scott

Scott does not quibble with the fact that historians are taking a more expansive view of history by considering race, class, and gender. However, she does not think these three factors should be intertwined because although class is connected to certain economic factors, race and gender are not. Sometimes people lump these three together when they need to be considered separately.


The response of most non-feminist historians has been acknowledgment and then separation or dismissal.

Joan W. Scott

The study of history has either left women out or placed them into a "women's history" category that is divided from what some historians consider "real" history, which deals with political events they think did not involve women.


Requires ... analysis ... of the connection between ... history and current historical practice.

Joan W. Scott

Scott pushes for a reexamination of the definition of gender and of its application to history throughout the essay. She does not directly say it but implies that people who are reluctant to look at the role of gender in history do not seem to be interested in examining how bias affects our view of the past and the present. People may find it easier to continue looking at history with the lenses already in place.


Gender is, in this definition, a social category imposed on a sexed body.

Joan W. Scott

Scott finds that when the word gender is used as a substitute for women, people tend to lean heavily on social expectations. They go beyond mere biology and focus on what a culture dictates that men and women do.


[Gender] says nothing about why relationships [between the sexes] are constructed as they are.

Joan W. Scott

Scott thinks that using gender in a descriptive way reinforces already established hierarchies and does little to explore the reasons behind them. She suggests that historians examine these relationships.


Theorists of patriarchy ... found their explanation ... in ... male 'need' to dominate.

Joan W. Scott

For Scott, the way theorists of the patriarchy use either reproduction or sexuality as a basis to analyze history is problematic because it only focuses on the physical body without showing "how gender inequality structures all other inequalities."


It assumes a consistent or inherent meaning for the human body.

Joan W. Scott

As the field of history developed, scholars made assumptions about the human body that Scott thinks need to be reevaluated. Continuing to rely on fixed definitions of gender that rest on physical differences makes it possible to assume that people in the past had no choice but to act as they did.


The subordination of women pre-dates capitalism and continues under socialism.

Joan W. Scott

Part of Scott's critique of a Marxist approach to studying gender in history is the limits of Marxism. Marxist theory needs to link gender to a material force and modes of production so it cannot fully explain the social hierarchies that have existed for centuries.


How can we account within this theory for persistent associations of masculinity with power?

Joan W. Scott

Object-relations theorists focus on gender as a result of what children experience in their households and Scott thinks this scope is narrow. It doesn't examine larger societal forces. Nor does it account for the phenomenon that children in different kinds of households seem to learn the same concepts about gender.


Conscious ideas of masculine and feminine are not fixed ... they vary according to contextual usage.

Joan W. Scott

It is Scott's opinion that without examining assumptions about gender, it will be difficult to change notions that have been passed down for generations. The mind actually holds conflicting ideas but not all of these ideas are acknowledged. Scott maintains that people suppress ambiguous ideas about gender and cling to fixed ideas that seem more coherent and less chaotic.


This makes ... 'man' and 'woman' problematic ... suggesting ... masculine and feminine are ... constructs.

Joan W. Scott

Scott thinks that a person's desire to fit into society's categories will make them try to repress whatever goes against those categories. Scott finds that the terms being used are limiting and imprecise.


We need a refusal of the fixed and permanent quality of the binary opposition.

Joan W. Scott

Scott pushes for further analysis of the masculine/feminine binary structure. The continued reliance on the binary of two opposing genders needs to be set aside so sexual difference can really be examined. She goes on to call for "a genuine historicization and deconstruction of the terms of sexual difference."


[Bodily] differences are ... summoned ... testimony to social relations ... that have nothing to do with sexuality.

Joan W. Scott

Scott writes that gender and society have a "reciprocal relationship." One informs the other. She gives an example of agrarian societies that organize work activities based on their views of masculine and feminine. She questions why activities and other non-sexual things are coded using the physical differences between men and women.


Connection between authoritarian regimes and ... control of women has been noted but not thoroughly studied.

Joan W. Scott

Scott looks beyond the surface of authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes are reputed to be harsh on everyone and Scott examines their particular emphasis on subjecting women. She gives an overview with examples of authoritarian regimes that made laws restricting women as soon as they came into power, even if there were few benefits to doing this. She writes, "The actions can only be made sense of as part of an analysis of the construction and consolidation of power."


Hierarchical structures rely on generalized understandings of the so-called natural relationship between male and female.

Joan W. Scott

Many cultures point to the differences between men and women and assign women to the subordinate position based on those differences and it is expected that people will accept this as natural. Scott illuminates the fact that this is not something to take for granted. It should be examined and questioned. She gives an example where opposing political factions used coded language reflecting gender to indicate the strength or lack thereof to boost or devalue their supporters.

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