A Useful Category of Historical Analysis by Joan W. Scott

Topics: Gender, Sociology, Feminism Pages: 13 (5040 words) Published: August 24, 2013
Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis Joan W. Scott The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5. (Dec., 1986), pp. 1053-1075. Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0002-8762%28198612%2991%3A5%3C1053%3AGAUCOH%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Z The American Historical Review is currently published by American Historical Association.

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Gender: A Useful Category of
Historical Analysis

(;endel-. n. a gr-;immatic;il term only. To talk of persons or creatures of'the masculine o r feminine gender-, meaning of the rrlale o r female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according t o context) or a blunder-. (Fo\vler'sDic./iona~y f o .\lod(~rn I.J~lglishI'snge, Oxford. 1940).

THOSEH O \ V ~ C L LCODIFY it ~ I L A N I S ( ; S O F \VOKDS fight a losing battle, for words, \V ) like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history. Neither Oxford dons nor the Academie Franpise have been entirely able to stem the tide, to capture and fix n~eanings free of the play of human invention and imagination. 1Iary Ll'ortley Jlontagu added bite to her witty denunciation "of the fair sex" ("my only consolation for being of that gender has been the assurance of never being nlarried to any one among them") by deliberately misusing the grammatical reference.' Through the ages. people have made figurative allusions by employing tei.111~ evoke traits of'character o r sexuality. For example, the usage gra~n~natical to / in offered by the Ilic.tiotrticcirr clr In lcrng~rc~ . N I I c ( I ~ . \ P 1876 was, "On ne sait d e quel genre il est, s'il est male ou femelle, se dit d'un h o ~ n m e tres-cache, dont on ne connait pas les sentiments."' And (;ladstone made this distinction in 1878: "Athene has nothing of sex except the gender, nothing of the woman except the form."" of hlost recently-too recently to find its wa! into dictionaries or the Enc~clofiedicr llle Sot.ic~1 St.irr1c.r.c-feminists have in a more literal and serious vein begun to use "gender" as a way of referring t o the social organization of the relationship between the sexes. T h e connection to grammar is both explicit and full of unexamined possibilities. Explicit because the grammatical usage involves formal .I-hi\ article is for Eliz,~l)e~ti \Vee(l. \\ l ~ t 'iugl~t lllr hou to t l i i r ~ a b o u ~ r ~ ~ t i a rr ~ dh r o ~ - yIt was hrst o l g e t . 1)1-epar-etifor t i e l i \ e ~ \.II the lrleetir~gof the :11ne1-ican IIi,tc)~-ical.Aasoeiatior~ i r ~Nr\c Y o r l City. m Dccenlbel- 27. 19Xi. I an1 tlerpl\ i;ratc.ful IO Denise Rile!, who sho~veti e how a liis~orianrnight ~ v o r k \\.itti a n d ~ h r o i l i ; theol-\ : ;il\o ~ o , ] a r ~ iDoane.Ja,rnine Ergs\, .Anne S o r t o n , a n d...
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