Week 1 Questions/Comments

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-- Major Problems, 1-23

The first essay mentions how women were once only seen as important to history because of their relation to important men. A prime example of this is our University. Mary Washington is recognized solely as the mother of George Washington. She is seen as important because of her son not because of any of her own actions. -- Allison

That's an awesome example! I wonder if other cultures were/are inclined to qulify their women in a similar manner. --Katelynn

I think Allison makes an excellent point. I'm reminded of a quote from the movie History Boys. The quote is from the woman history teacher who says, "History is a commentary on the various and continuing incapabilities of men. What is history? History is women following behind with the bucket." She may have some feminist tendencies when saying this, but I think it can be a relevant quote for what Kate Haulman is saying in her essay and the point Allison made. -- Vanessa

One of my other professors mentioned that history is constantly being reinterpreted and rewritten, so can any of the questions represented by this book ever actually be answered to everyone's satisfaction? -- Allison

In response to Allison's question: I think that you have a good point. I seriously doubt that any of these questions will ever be answered to everyone's satisfaction. Like in all things there will always be someone who is not satisfied, someone who continues to look for another way to answer the question. Its human nature. You can see that just looking at the essays, even though the historians writing this are all involved in women's history they all have different ideas of how you should go about it and what you should focus on. --Mary

I agree with Mary and Allison also. It is human nature to not be satisfied- and it is in our nature to complain and always want to adapt in ideologies. None of the questions asked in Chapter 1 can ever be answered coherently because the answers can be interepreted in so many different ways. I mean the book has four essays on the topic so far, all of which are different.- Talya

>In response to the above, I think that the entire point of the first chapter is to show how the idea of American Women's History has changed and adapted (or how it should do so) in response to people's questions. Therefore if you are unsatisfied with some historian's account of history you can take the time to study that account and others so that you can find a different truth. For example the final two essays were written by women who were unsatisfied with the way minority women are represented in the realm of women's history so they devoted time to studying women from other cultures and racial backgrounds so as to satisfy their queries. Their work only adds to our understanding. -- Julie Castanien


There was one section while reading that stood out for me and that was the part on page twelve about equality and difference. I found it interesting that she should mention the idea that so often in the search for women's "equality" women want to be treated as if they were men and often over look the differences between men and women because they have often been used as a basis for discimination. While this section was very confusing, in my opinion at least, just because of the strong and opposing opinions about the subject, personally I think that just because a woman wants to be seen as an equal to a man in the eyes of society and in the eyes of the law that is no reason to set aside her femininity. --Mary

In regards to Mary's comment, I agree that equality should never be awarded based on one's femininity. The dichotomy was a contrast between feminists who deny difference between males and females and those who use their differences as a strength or access to power. I think it is vital to realize that "femininity" is a construct that has been forced upon women. "Femininity" and "Masculinity" have regulated gender politics and certainly there is nothing wrong with expressing either- but they are just labels that have been oppressive to those who wish to transcend their designated gender roles. I think that there would be value in discussing from where "femininity" stems and how free thought is and has been affected by this construct. --Kelly

I'd like to pose a question of opinion, if permitted, in response to Mary's and Kelly's comments. It's a situation that I know many instances of and wonder about what everyone else thinks of it. Woman A wants to go to college, get a degree, and continue her education (perhaps to get a masters or doctorate). She hopes to achieve a full and lengthy career while maintaining a family life. Woman B wants to finish college but her main goal is to start a family and stay at home to take care of her children and the household. She has no desire for a career and is more than satisfied with her life as a stay-at-home mom/homemaker. I don't really have a follow-up question other than to open the floor to opinion, but is there anything wrong with either woman's goals and should either be seen as less-equal or more equal than the other? -- Vanessa

In response to Vanessa's comment, I don't believe the issue should be whether or not one woman's goals are more or less equal to those of the other woman. The important issue is that women have the choice to pursue an education and career and/or they have the choice to become mothers and care for their households. We have come a long way in history considering the choice was not always there. -- Elizabeth

One, I think that either choice contains a life time of dedication and hard work. Vanessa's question for Woman B was if the woman went to school and then just stayed home. What if woman B never went to school at all? What if she simply became a house wife? What does everyone think about a housewife with no education? What if school was not even an option because it was not important? It is so interesting that school has now become the factor of success. A while ago, college was not for everyone- especially not for women at one point. What does everyone think about how an uneducated housewife would be viewed upon today versus a century ago?- Talya.

I agree with Elizabeth. In the 1950s the typical family dynamic was a stay at home mom (homemaker) and a father who worked (the breadwinner). "The Problem That Has No Name" written by Betty Friedan speaks to women who had no other options than to raise the children and be the homemaker. That is what society told them they had to/should do at that time. "The Problem" was that many women became depressed and wanted more from their life. I don't mean to down homemakers at all. Rather, I say this because women did not have a real choice then. Like Elizabeth said though, now women have more choices. Both homemakers and career women should be valued for their work. --Alex

I agree with Elizabeth but also think that looking at what influences a woman's life goal could potentially be telling. I would be curious about how the goals of Woman A and B have been supported by their peers, the media, and other outside forces. --Kelly

I have been a stay at home mom but I also held a part-time job if hours that were different from my husbands. This was a way I could balanace a career and be a mother at the same time. It was difficult but I had plenty of support from my family, peers and others. The only thing I put on hold was my education. Hopefully this coming spring I will graduate.--Cheryl

Women's history has come a long way. I agree with Gerda Lerner when she says "the striking fact about the historiography of women is the general neglect of the subject by historians." (p.8). There is something about the neglect of women's studies that makes us want to focus even more on their history. --Katie

Speaking of Gerda Lerner, she was a speaker during last years women's history month here on campus. I went to hear her speak and she was a really strong, intelligent and persistent women. She spoke of the Seneca Falls Convention and the Declaration of Sentiments written there advocating for the women's rights. In addition, she also addressed the women's movement stereotype that it only involved white middle class women. She mentioned that the working class, blacks and some men were also involved. Lerner also noted that although the Equal Rights Amendment has yet to be passed, she does not feel that it would be the magic ticket to solve all women’s issues. She stressed that legal reforms/changes are not enough. Social support and cultural transformation is needed. The attitudes of men and women alike need to change in support of these issues. Knowing women’s history is a major step in the right direction. Lerner basically founded women’s history programs, stressing that we have a right to know our own history. --Alex

Knowing that it is gender that defines "man" and "woman", or "male" and "female", what exactly truely defines the category "women"? --Katie

I believe that when studying women's history it is easy to get caught up in the oppression of women. It's important to remember that not all cultures were as oppressive over women as were European societies. We know that many Native American women had a stronger role in soceity than most European women. This is not to say that women were never oppressed, rather that depending on the soceity of study, women's roles were different.-- Elizabeth

In response to Elizabeth's comment: I definitely agree. In fact, while I was reading the essays, I kept reminding myself about the different situations of women throughout history, like Native Americans as you mentioned. However, not focusing on oppression is sometimes hard to do as Leslie Alexander points out, some scholars seek to incoroporate race into their studies and end up "focusing exclusively on oppression" (20).--Kaitlyn

I agree, there has been so many positive parts in Women's history. Yet, we cannot forget some of the good parts were incorporated hand in hand with the status of the particular female individual. Abigail Adams for example- I'm sure she would not have been popular or involved in the Revolutionary War as much as she was if she was not married to her famous husband.- Talya.

In her essay Alexander argued that historians are "reluctant to explore how the reality of race influences Black women's lives." What is the cause of this reluctance? Can this statement also be applied to all minority women? - Fiona

The authors argue that women's history needs to be examined from multiple angles: class, race, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, age, work, etc. Is this possible? Would it still be women's history or would it become something like African American women's history or Latino women's history? - Fiona

Elaborating on Fiona's questions, how do we define any group for the purpose of studying its history? How does one draw important distinctions (class, race, age, etc.) while not creating a focus so narrow or specific as to be impractical for study as a group? Also, Gisela Bock refers to the emergence of "men's history" and "men's studies." Has anyone actually witnesses any examples of this? -Ashley

I don't think the reading covered this so i was curious if anyone else knew- How did the study of women specifically in history begin? did it begin with the feminist movements?- Elizabeth

As Cheryl states below, the preface states the basic reasons that this topic came into play. 1) the feminist movement in the 1960s and 2) women began to enter into the field of history and historical study as a result of employment opportunities that they had not previously been given. And one reason seems to be the result of the other. - Kelly W.

In the preface of the book, more details are given about the study of women's histroy.--Cheryl

I was actually curious about the same thing. I believe one of the authors mentioned that the field of study stretched all the way back to the 1950s (I could be wrong). That being said, with the ever-changing role of women in society, how do you think the study of women's history has changed since its beginning and how do you think it will change in the future?--Kaitlyn

Playing a bit of a devil's advocate, wouldn't it be fair to say that women have always played a role in history by nature of the biological process? However, in regards to the readings I think the authors all seem to agree that the study of women's history began between 1950-1970-ish. --Katelynn

Why would the feminist movement be thought of as damaging to Women's Studies? I would think that it would be a positive thing so that women can see where they've been and how they could advance. - Elizabeth

To comment on Allison’s Mary Washington statement that opened this discussion, Bock’s essay makes a great point in her public v. private dichotomy. She says, “male workers, male politicians and male scholars perform their tasks only because they are born, reared, and cared for by the women’s labor”(10). Thus, George is a public reflection of Mary’s private raising. We are able to see the woman Mary was through the man George became.--Lisa

How does one determine what is gender neutral? Especially when it comes to applying gender neutrallity to laws that invovled violence like rape and battery?--Cheryl

There is a comment somewhere amongst these essays that states that women’s history is a compilation of only the exceptional women from history, thus creating a history that is unrepresentative of every woman. Isn’t most history (not just women’s history) we read that of the extraordinary and not the commonplace?--Lisa

In response to your question, Lisa, I'd have to agree with you on that one. Most history we study from grade school through our current education focuses primarily on major events, not only of women, but of men as well. Discussions are always based on the extraordinary and the only way we tap into the lives of the commonplace is by digging for primary sources and analyzing what we can. I feel however, that the field is slowly beginning to expand and bring the commonplace closer to the center. (I think that made sense). - Kelly W

In her essay "Challenging Dichotomies in Women's History," Gisela Bock states that women appeared front and center in the historian's eye because of their subjectivity and that "women are not only victims but also actively shape their own lives, society and history." How does everyone feel about this statement? Do you agree that it was also partly at the fault of women that the gender was not previously studied? - Kelly W

It was actually a surprise to me how indepth the discussion of "women's history" really is. I had always been under the simple assumption that women's history was just precisely that: history of women. The reality that such a two word phrase would contain so many issues regarding gender, race, class... appears very important, despite my previous assumptions. The idea that women's history was actually 'white women's history' was an observation that jumped out at me. It seems so easy to fight for a perspective/focus in history with the goal of some type of equality while at the same time ignoring a whole type of inequality in your focus. The sections dealing with the multiple dichotomies was very interesting, considering how even today such phrases are used. In the case of "work and family," its interesting to see how a practical consideration of "paid and unpaid work" was given a more ethical/moral (perhaps even a religious/theological one?) with the phrase "work and family" -it makes me wonder what other dichotomies in society that seem to be ethical or social values are at base purely practical ones. --Chris Plummer

I would first like to start by commenting to Allison’s opening statement about women’s history in relation to men and would like to throw out another question. Considering the time period we are focusing on in this class and the mostly male-dominated/patriarchal society of the time is it contextually appropriate to only focus on women without considering important men both publicly and privately in women’s lives? I think Haulman brings up an extremely important part of understanding women’s historiography and that was the need and desire to have a history of all types, classes, races, etc. of women but can we do that without some comparison to men? (particularly in this half of the course). I also think Haulman, Castaneda, and Alexander brought up an important point about titles and incorporating women of color. In my research for my 299 paper I came across research and studies about minority groups in the 1960s women’s movement, how they viewed the women’s movement, how they participated, and how they viewed the predominantly white, middle class woman’s struggle compared to theirs. It made me think of other titles such as the “History of African Americans” and what that title would mean broken down. ----Mary Beth Dillane

I thought that it was interesting in Antonia Castaneda's essay how she mentions that the women, who wrote the history of women in the West, only wrote about white women. I think that it is difficult to write a through history of women in the West without highlighting the accomplishments of Native American, Hispanic and Asian women. ~Katherine~

Going along with Katherine's comment, think of how little we know about the American (and when I say American I mean US) southeast and the Native American tribes. Most of what we are taught is that they were fighting a battle they were ultimately going to lose -- isn't most history biased in that sort of way and not just women's history? - Kelly W

I also thought that it was interesting how Leslie Alexander mentions that the feminist movement was not very successful with African American women. It was not successful because African American families were very close knit and the movement required women to distance themselves a little bit from their families. ~Katherine~

One of the things that struck me the most in the reading was the section about equality versus difference. As I was reading it I kept thinking Why is it so difficult for women to be equal. I believe that we (as women) should not be treated exactly like men because we are different and have different issues that cannot be addressed that way, such as what was mentioned in the text of rape, abortion, and spousal abuse (pg12). I think Bock's question of "why is it, for instance, that "equality" and "justice" seem to complement each other in the case of men, but be opposed to each other in the case of women." (pg12) is a very important question and sums up the women's struggle to be visible. ~Mary Beth C~

In regards to Mary Beth's statement on gender equality versus gender difference, there is no easy resolution. This debate is as old as the feminist movement. While some feminist wish to dichotomize themselves from men, highlighting their differences, others wish to ignore all differences in the interest of obtaining equality. Yet, how can equality ever be truly reached with such distinct divisions between men and women? Try as we might to ignore our differences, men and women are not the same. Despite the feminist movement and deviation from traditional roles, the words "feminine" and "masculine" still imply certain characteristics,activities and lifestyles. ~Juliann

I found the various references to the complications of writing to represent a whole sex interesting. The progression from the inclusion of "important and influential" figures in women's history, to a history that strives to incorporate the vast meanings of what it means to be a woman in all respects in all periods is daunting, if not hopeless. But, striving for such complete understanding seems to be a crucial goal of the modern historian. Diversity of study is finding an important prominence, but in such the danger of dilution of the subject field becomes apparent. -- Robert Kopp

Vanessa's question hit on an issue that we're starting to see the pendulum sort of swing in the opposite direction on, but for so long we have only wanted to talk about and recognize the active and "exciting" action taking parts of history. No one wants to talk about keeping a family on the homefront or making the parts for the planes that dropped the bombs, they want to talk about flying in to drop the bombs. At the same time, as we try to recognize the importance of raising families, and women like Abigail Adams who were intellectually advanced and deserve credit for being recognized as leaders within their own time, we neglect to give attention to women who assumed active roles equal or comparable to male roles--why do we know Jack Jouett and Paul Revere, but we don't know Sybil Luddington and Dicey Langston? Women's history seems to have gone to extremes, resulting in attention being devoted most unequally. --Andrea

Bock and Haulman seemed to do an excellent job of articulating key themes in gender and women's studies, themes I have not seen articulated as succintly and clearly elsewhere. Bock's numbered themes simply identify issues my women's studies class spent weeks discussing, issues that I believe we will find continually reappear and connect in subtle ways we would never anticipate...These are issues that apply to other minorities on some level in many situations--like the integration discussion. Are any neglected/minority accounts of history better taught on their own independently or better off integrated into mainstream history? African American, Latino or even Irish History/Studies could easily be substituted for Women's Studies/History in many of these essays. Haulman's explanation of the sexuality nature vs. nurture debate is significantly clearer than the essays used in the same series' book on Sexual History by Weeks and Rictor Norton, which fail to address many examples like mannerisms, which Haulman uses well. Leslie Alexander's discussion of historians' use of the contributionist model with African American history also seemed to apply to women's history in general, or really any history that's been neglected from the "Dead White Men" version of history. It made me realize that women's history really is discussed in terms of contributions or assistance or help, never in terms of achievements or actions, contrary to the "he did" history of DWM. That thought left me frustrated and asking "What would Gerda say?" (besides to keep insisting on the recognition of obscure minority examples of women which derail Dr. McClurken's classes). --Andrea

In response to Mary Beth’s question about how important it is to incorporate men into our study of women, I think it is important to include them because they did play an important role in influencing women’s lives and choices. While the degree is debatable, the fact remains that Women were influenced by the male dominated society in which they lived. We wouldn’t be getting the full picture if we failed to incorporate men into that history. For me, the equality v. difference argument in the Gisella Bock essay was very interesting. Though I am all for female independence, equal education and job opportunities, etc. I’m not convinced that women and men should be treated as gender neutral. Biologically we are different and face different issues in society. –- Jennifer Feldhaus

I agree with Jennifer. In the study of women's history, important male influences should not be ignored, for we as historians would fail to see the big picture. Both sexes have played an integral role in the shaping of our world. You cannot tell the story of a woman without mentioning the important men in her life, for as a housewife, a woman's success was dependent upon the success of her husband and sons. ~Juliann

Jennifer- I completely agree. Men and Women should not be treated as gender neutral. The difference between us- not just physically- but mentally, emotionally, and physcologically, are to extreme to be considered equal. That is not to say that we should not have equal rights- but not only do we face different issues in society differenty, we react differently to those issues. - Talya.

Talya makes a good point. Gender Neutrality is a sticky subject. Whereas most women want to be treated equally, we still desire special recognition or accomodation, simply because of natural differences. But how can a woman be treated differently from a man and still equal? ~Juliann

I thought this article raised interesting questions about gender and the role that men and women are asked to preform in society. While I think that equal pay for the same work is important, I would be cautious in saying that gender should be a neutral. If its neutral than would what would we base our differences on? --Katelynn

These were posted in another area accidentally:

I don't think the reading covered this so i was curious if anyone else knew- How did the study of women specifically in history begin? did it begin with the feminist movements?- Elizabeth

--Not sure if this is really what you're looking for but I believe Gerda Lerner started the first(?) women's history department at the University of Wisconsin...which would make it somewhat linked to the feminist movements, but partially independent?--Andrea

Why would the feminist movement be thought of as damaging to Women's Studies? I would think that it would be a positive thing so that women can see where they've been and how they could advance. - Elizabeth

--I really liked this question, the first thing I can think of is feminism has traditionally had less respect and interest in traditional women's roles as homemakers, etc. --Andrea

I didn't realize that so many different groups identified themselves as "American" women, like the Cherokees. While I think the four major bolded themes in the Haulman essay are useful, they are also major themes in Gender Studies and Women's Studies. In the History of U.S. Sexuality, we are reading nature vs. culture/constructionist vs. essentialist essays, and I believe Haulman's part 1 addresses important issues like mannerisms and hobbies, which I haven't seen articulated as well elsewhere. Unfortunately, I agree with the vicious cycle Haulman identifies on p. 11, whereby women's efforts to be more historically recognized and gain rights limited them. --Andrea

Lesile Alexander raised some interesting points in her essay about how the feminist movement affects African American women’s history. I have always seen women’s history as inextricably linked to the feminist movement but never considered the ramifications that it would have for African American women. While Lesile Alexander states that the feminist movement was useful in liberating white women she says it also forced Black women into the same mold and has therefore prevented a full understanding of black women’s lives. Throughout the essay Alexander states the importance of incorporating race into women’s history going so far as to say that black women’s lives cannot be understood if they are continually viewed through the “lens of whiteness and oppression.” I wanted to see if people agreed with Alexander that African American women’s history has been misunderstood for years because racial differences have not been examined fully enough.-Caitlin Quinn

> Yes Caitlin, I agree with Alexander about African American women's history. I also know that there are similar issues with Latina History. There seems to be this prevailing theme that when it comes to minority women the primary goal is to see their racial or ethnic group liberated before they are liberated as women. I could try to make a stretch here and compare this racial and ethic liberation to that of the White American Male Colonists from the oppressive English rule before the White women could be liberated but I think that is over kill. --Julie Castanien

I am surprised because I have yet to see anyone comment (unless I have not read this page closely enough) on something just casually mentioned in some of the essays that still astounds me. This is one half of the world's population we are talking about here. I know that the two last essays warn us against labeling women as a unified group but I still have trouble wrapping my head around the fact that until the 1960s and later has Women's History come to the forefront.-- Julie Castanien

>Personally I think, out of all the essays, Kate Haulman’s essay really hits it on the nail. Haulman argues about Worthiness, it seems that worthiness is a measure of scholarly review. She uses the examples of Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Clara Barton. These Individual women were covered based on their individual merit, but do they represent all women in general? The point I’m trying to make is that worthiness is measured in a male dominated world, and it is reflected in history text books. But the error, in my opinion, is that worthiness is inclusive and is not representative of the whole population. Thus are rich white male noble elites that shaped are nation with laws and institutions a fair representation of all white males in general? My answer is no. Therefore, history in general is extremely complex as it has its range of class, race, gender, etc. And the study of women’s history has these complex issues a sort of Pandora’s Box that once open it presents a multitude of problems that Haulman points out in her essay. –John Furner


In response to Vanessa's question in the beginning I don't think one womans goals and how she plans to achieve them makes one woman better than any other. My older sister for example is paying 50,000 dollars in loans to go to grad school, however, her eventual goal in life is to be a housewife. There's nothing wrong to want to be educated but at the same time want to raise your family. Secondly, my favorite part of these articles is on page six when Haulman talks about how gender is fluid and a woman isn't just a woman but how there is so much more to her. That's how Women's History should be approached. Just don't look at a woman as a politician, see her as a mother, a daughter, a friend, a sister, a wife, and a contributer to society. Then we can get a clear idea of women from the past. -- Emily Miller