Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bennett's History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism: a Roundtable

For Women's History Month, there has been a great Roundtable on Judith Bennett, History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism.




Here is the book description:

Written for everyone interested in women's and gender history, History Matters reaffirms the importance to feminist theory and activism of long-term historical perspectives. Judith M. Bennett, who has been commenting on developments in women's and gender history since the 1980s, argues that the achievement of a more feminist future relies on a rich, plausible, and well-informed knowledge of the past, and she asks her readers to consider what sorts of feminist history can best advance the struggles of the twenty-first century.

Bennett takes as her central problem the growing chasm between feminism and history. Closely allied in the 1970s, each has now moved away from the other. Seeking to narrow this gap, Bennett proposes that feminist historians turn their attention to the intellectual challenges posed by the persistence of patriarchy. She posits a "patriarchal equilibrium" whereby, despite many changes in women's experiences over past centuries, women's status vis-à-vis that of men has remained remarkably unchanged. Although, for example, women today find employment in occupations unimaginable to medieval women, medieval and modern women have both encountered the same wage gap, earning on average only three-fourths of the wages earned by men. Bennett argues that the theoretical challenge posed by this patriarchal equilibrium will be best met by long-term historical perspectives that reach back well before the modern era. In chapters focused on women's work and lesbian sexuality, Bennett demonstrates the contemporary relevance of the distant past to feminist theory and politics. She concludes with a chapter that adds a new twist--the challenges of textbooks and classrooms--to viewing women's history from a distance and with feminist intent.

A new manifesto, History Matters engages forthrightly with the challenges faced by feminist historians today. It argues for the radical potential of a history that is focused on feminist issues, aware of the distant past, attentive to continuities over time, and alert to the workings of patriarchal power.

And blurbs:

"This is a remarkable work, at once erudite, insightful, witty, provocative, and analytically brilliant. Bennett writes with narrative verve and energy that captures the reader in both her compelling argument and detailed evidence."--Bonnie G. Smith, Rutgers University

"Judith Bennett offers a striking analysis of the current state of feminist history. In a series of lucid chapters, she demonstrates the political and intellectual consequences of forgetting the past. This book should be required reading for every feminist who cares about the future."--Martha Vicinus, University of Michigan

"Bennett argues convincingly that our understanding of modern women's condition and contemporary feminist dilemmas must be rooted in the longue durée. From that perspective, we can develop a more nuanced and sophisticated analysis of the 'patriarchal equilibrium' that has so long constrained women's lives and efforts to transform them."--Nancy A. Hewitt, Rutgers University

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