The History of Masculinity, circa 1650–1800

TitleThe History of Masculinity, circa 1650–1800
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsHarvey, Karen
JournalJournal of British Studies
Date Published04/2005

First paragraph: The history of masculinity, relatively new on the historical stage, is an increasingly popular subject. But it is not welcomed by all. This new popularity of the history of masculinity, intimately tied to a larger gender history, is for some deeply reactionary, and there are several reasons why feminist women’s historians are worried. Some forms of gender history have been denounced as “a male tool used in an attempt to dissipate women’s power whereby women become historically viable subjects only when placed alongside men, thus reinforcing their position as ‘other.’” Moreover, gender history often explores ideas about and meanings of femininity and masculinity. Focusing on representation and discourse can appear to leave little room in which to ponder the activities of actual individuals with agency. It erases autonomous individuals acting in the world and produces “subjects interpolated in a discursive field.” As Judith Bennett cautioned, a history of gender as meaning “intellectualizes and abstracts the inequality of the sexes.”4 For women’s and feminist historians, the problem is a political one: gender history can be depoliticized or antifeminist because it allows us to forget the material workings of power in the past.

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