Sayegh notes Joan Scott, "Gender"

what's with this "within certain limits" stuff? Either you are free to choose or you aren't

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what's with this "within certain limits" stuff? Either you are free to choose or you aren't. Agency isn't that simple. We are all at least partially constrained by our environments—social, personal, political, ecological. Given those confines people make decisions. History doesn't happen, people make it happen (my line, here).


"My definition of gender has two parts and several subsets…The core of the definition rests on an integral connection between two propositions: gender is a constitutive element of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes [part 1], and gender is a primary way of signifying relations of power [part 2]" (42).

-Part 1 states that gender is culturally constructed. There is nothing natural or biologically predetermined about it. It's not "actual" difference but "perceived" difference. Some of this of course cannot escape physical differences, but those physical differences become defining traits of essence. There are four elements of this part of her definition:

1. cultural symbols evoke multiple representations;

2. there are normative concepts that interpret what these cultural symbols mean;

3. notion of politics and a reference to social institutions and organizations;

4. subjective identity

-tying these four together, JS states that "Historians need instead to examine the ways in which gendered identities are substantively constructed and relate their findings to a range of activities, social organizations, and historically specific cultural representations" (44).

-She asserts that this has been successfully accomplished in recent biographies, both about the individual (as Hall's [not the same one!] Jessie Daniel Ames) and the collective (as Sinha's Bengali world).

All four of these must exist together in her definition—they can't operate separately.

So, what is her point of offering a process of how gender is constructed? "to clarify and specify how one needs to think about the effect of gender in social and institutional relationships, because this thinking is often not done precisely or systematically."
-Part 2 recognizes that gender is used to create and enforce power relations, most notable the subordination of one sex (female) by another (male). She states, "gender is a primary field within which or by means of which power is articulated" (45). This is not to say that power solely is about gender or is built for the purposes of creating gender distinctions and imbalances; it is only one way in which power manifests itself (others include race and class).

-She then makes a very intriguing statement: "gender becomes implicated in the conception and construction of power itself" and she quotes anthropologist Maurice Godelier to help explain this. We discover that sex differences are used by society to establish and uphold social relations "that have nothing to do with sexuality." Once this is done, sexuality is used as legitimation for gender inequalities and differences.

-How does legitimation work? At first she gives a number of examples. She then asserts that the examples she has provided "are based on the idea that conceptual languages employ differentiation to establish meaning and that sexual difference is a primary way of signifying differentiation."

-Society takes obvious physical differences and uses them to construct meaning about social relationships, social phenomena, etc.

She then claims that "Gender, then, provides a way to decode meaning and to understand the complex connections among various forms of human interaction…[historians] develop insight into the particular and contextually specific ways in which politics constructs gender and gender constructs politics" (46).

-Now we're getting not only to reasons why gender is a useful category of historical analysis, but also to why the title of the book is Gender and the Politics of History.

-Examine her examples here from political history. Not only does she want us to see how politics is an area where gender can be used as analysis, but she wants to throw a wrench into traditional political history because it has remained so staunchly resistant to the inclusion of women or gender.

-Burke and the "murderous sansculotte hags" vs. "soft femininity of Marie Antoinette"

-Burke again, "to make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely."

-medieval Islamic political theory as similar to Classical Greece (and here she references Foucault). What do these homosexual power relations have in common? "the irrelevance of women to any notion of politics and public life." And this, of course, is a gendered notion.

-She then says that we need to understand how the needs of the state gender society. She says a bit later about authoritarian regimes: "emergent rules have legitimized domination, strength, central authority, and ruling power as masculine (enemies, outsiders, subversives, weakness, as feminine) and made that code literal in laws (forbidding women's political participation, outlawing abortion, prohibiting wage-earning by mothers, imposing female dress codes) that put women in their place" (47)

-But not only authoritarian regimes: "In different ways… the democratic regimes of the twentieth century have also constructed their political ideologies with gendered concepts and translated them into policy" (47).

She asserts that these examples show how gender is connected to power, but they do not form the whole of her definition / understanding of gender: "attention to gender is often not explicit, but it is nonetheless a crucial part of the organization of equality or inequality" (48). The very concept of hierarchy does not necessarily need to be based in official politics—her example of class relations (middle class vs. working class) exemplifies this point.

-Even so, high politics is still an important venue for understanding how gender operates: "Gender is one of the recurrent references by which political power has been conceived, legitimated, and criticized. It refers to but also establishes the meaning of the male/female opposition. To vindicate political power, the reference must seem sure and fixed, outside human construction, part of the natural or divine order" (48-9).

She ends her analysis with a discussion of change. How is it possible if gender and power are implicated in each other's construction? How do you break free of the cycle? Well, she provides lots of examples on page 49 of how / where change may be initiated.

-In the end though, she asserts that "If we treat the opposition between male and female as problematic rather than known, as something contextually defined, repeatedly constructed, then we must constantly ask not only what is at stake in proclamations or debates that invoke gender to explain or justify their positions but also how implicit understandings of gender are being invoked and reinscribed" (49).

This is an important statement because it forces us to examine sexual relations in the past as part of their culture—we cannot get away with assigning them some fixed, universal and consequently ahistorical, predetermined position. We need to understand how each subject under investigation USED the ideology of gender (however unconsciously) to create a certain sense of the world.

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