• Essays on Gender History by Penelope J. Corfield

4.3 Gender History

4.3.1 History and the Challenge of Gender History (1997; 1999), Pdf6
This essay, first published in 1997, provides a critical assessment of debates within and about gender history. The initial hype that claimed that women’s history would subvert the entire discipline of history and introduce a new ‘herstory’ was wildly overdone. At the same time, however, women’s history has indeed enriched the subject and has, importantly, mutated into a broader gender history, which offers scope for the history of men/masculinity as well as of women/femininity. It is an inclusive development which is fostering a holistic history. And these innovations can be warmly welcomed, without entailing an intellectual appeal to a supposedly warm and sensitive ‘female’ intuition, or depending upon a postmodernist onslaught upon an allegedly harsh and dying ‘male’ rationality.
The text includes PJC’s response to a subsequent critique, which argued that abandoning women’s history for the delusive cause of gender history was a retrogressive move from the point of view of women. PJC replied that gender history, far from being a cuckoo in the nest of women’s history, was a logical development. It means that ‘Man’ is no longer deemed an ahistorical construct that is beyond analysis; but is being put into the full historical context of emerging and contested gender roles – the pioneering research often being undertaken by experts in women’s history. The diversification of women’s history into gender history, which allows practitioners to choose which themes they prefer to study, is not ‘anti-woman’ but a strong signal of research vitality. Both the original essay and the subsequent debate have also been reprinted in S. Morgan (ed.), The Feminist History Reader (2006), pp. 116-29.

4.3.2 Women and Public Speaking – and Why It has Taken so Long to Get There (BLOG/ 47, Nov. 2014)
Conventional prohibitions in Britain upon women speaking in public have proved long-lasting, because the ban managed not only to deter women but also to embolden male audiences to jeer and heckle. This short essay assesses how and why things began to change.

4.3.3 Why is it Taking So Long to Normalise the Role of Women at the Top in Politics? (BLOG/ 64, April 2016) This short essay is a pair to 4.3.2, on the power of conventional barriers to women’s public participation in politics, as opposed to their behind-the-scenes wielding of influence.

4.3.4 How did Women First Manage to Break the Grip of Traditional Patriarchy? (BLOG/ 65, May 2016) To be read in conjunction with 4.3.2 and 4.3.3, this essay explores the steps by which women in Britain managed to take plausible steps to achieve full public and political participation.

4.3.5 Why is the remarkable Charlotte Despard not Better Known? (BLOG/ 97, Jan. 2019)
Charlotte Despard (1844-1939) was a remarkable figure. She was so controversial in her own day that her pioneering commitment as a feminist, vegetarian, socialist, Irish nationalist and (latterly) communist supporter fell reputationally between all stools. But her passion and civic commitment deserve proper historical recognition.

4.3.6 Is it Time to Look beyond Separate Identities to Find Personhood? (BLOG/ 104, August 2019) Identity politics are powerful. And, up to a point, valuable and enlightening. But this essay (which can be read in conjunction with 4.3.7) argues that valuing separate identities should not detract from a proper civic recognition of all people’s shared personhood.

4.3.7 Enlightenment Gender, Womanhood, Manhood, Sexualities & Personhood: Thematic Overview Pdf55
This thematic overview analyses the main trends and conceptual debates which have informed research into eighteenth-century gender and sexualities. It celebrates the quality of much new work, which has dramatically expanded historical knowledge on significant and multi-faceted aspects of human experience, which were once shrouded in coyness and/or silence. At the same time, the essay also notes that women and men have some common human interests, above and beyond their gender roles; and it predicts a new and complementary interest in historical ‘personhood’.

4.3.8 GINA LURIA WALER ‘Women’s History: Galvanizing Marginality’
Web-published here by permission of author © Gina Luria Walker, this essay is a companion piece to Essay 4.3.7 by PJC. It provides a critical survey of the evolution of women’s history as a research theme, complete with ebbs and flows of changing approaches and interpretations. Overall, Walker shows how women’s history has brought the lives of past women back into view, to salutary effect. And she concludes that the knowledge gained must not be marginalised or trivalised; but built into a better, deeper understanding.

4.3.9 Being Assessed as a Whole Person – A Critique of Identity Politics Pdf58 (BLOG/121, January 2021) The title of this text is self-evident. It is a further development and personal affirmation of arguments first addressed in 4.3.6 and 4.3.7.

4.3.10 Battersea’s Female Pioneers (BLOG/124, January 2021) To celebrate International Women’s Day in Battersea on 8 March 2021, a public meeting was offered a presentation of five pioneering women, with strong Battersea connections. Here are very short pinpoint summaries of their lives. And, at the end, mottoes from each one (improvised on the basis of their lives and recorded words) are offered for all women today.

4.3.11 What Does It Mean to be a Whole Person? Why We Should all be Arty-Smarty. Pdf60 (BLOG/125, May 2021) This commentary picks up the theme of 4.3.9 to explore further what is meant by the concept of being a ‘whole person’. It calls for all individuals to get a rounded education to develop all their talents. Such an approach is sometimes dismissed as too ‘arty-farty’. But that’s wrong. It’s actually arty-smarty, for individuals and for humanity as a whole.

4.3.12 Does classifying people in terms of their ‘Identity’ have parallels with racist thought? Answer: No; Yes; and ultimately, No. Pdf61 This commentary follows responses to 4.3.9 (Pdf58) Being Assessed as a Whole Person; and 4.3.11 Pdf60 What Does it Mean to be a Whole Person? See also 4.4.1 (BLOG/36). It asks whether classifying people in terms of ‘Identity’ has parallels with racist thought? And it answers: No, yes (in some circumstances); but ultimately NO.