home | many pasts | evidence | www.history | blackboard | reference
talking history | syllabi | students | teachers | puzzle | about us
search: go!
advanced search - go!

Back to Talking History results

Back to archive list

Date:         Thu, 1 Oct 1998 12:48:39 -0400
Reply-To:     Forum on Women's History
Sender:       Forum on Women's History
From:         Gerda Lerner 
Subject:      Gerda Lerner's Comments 10/1

Dear Colleagues:

This is my last entry to our discussion - in fact, as you
can see, I am a day late for it. I want to thank all of you for
participating and sharing -- it certainly was instructive to me and trust
it will lead to continuing discussion among yourselves.

        To Neal Gibson I would say that the discussion of "sex" has been
essential and central in feminist theory and thought since the middle of
the 19th century. But I think it is, for highschool students a very charged
subject, on which it is difficult to stimulate an objective discussion.
There are, however, many texts available, which give a feminist analysis of
the subject. The works of Mc Kinnon, Adrienne Rich, Audrey Lorde, Andrea
Dworkin come immediately to mind. Paglia is too far away from feminist
thought to be used as a feminist representative, unless combined with the
works of others. In general, I think it is easier and more useful to
introduce teenage students to the subject by way of discussing GENDER, that
is the rols  assigned to men and women at different times in history.
Students need to learn that the gender definitions they now hold are
neither universal nor eternal, nor God-given.The core of feminist thought
is the insight that for women, gender was inhibiting, defining, and
oppressive, because gender was not defined by women. There is much more to
be said on this buejct, but I will leave it for now.

        To Victoria Straughn - thank you for your good words about history
at UW-Madison. I am glad to see you are putting what you learned to such
good use. As to you observation that it is mostly boys who object to
Women's History teaching, this co incides with my experience of over 35
years. At the root of such objections is the concept that the male is the
norm, the defining subject, the average, and that anyone or anything
different from that norm is deviant. I always address this notion early on
in class. I ask students to justify such opinions and then, again, to
critique them from the point of view of other so-called "marginal" groups,
such as racial minorities. What needs examining is what damage this
androcentric view of the world does to both men and women. It obviously
disadvantages women and has, for many hundreds of years, oppressed them.
But it also seriously damages males by giving them a totally false picture
of the world as it actually functions. Every boy or man knows that women
are just as powerful as men, as persons, and often in their position in
society. Yet they are treated as though they were marginal or inferior.
What boys learn from this is that an intellectual half-truth is acceptable,
as long as enough people believe it.  What they learn is to expect certain
entitlements and privileges, just because they are male. Since the real
world no longer will gratify such illusions, they are getting a false
education. So, far from apologizing for teaching W. H., we can show how we
are helping both girls and boys to get a more realistic picture of the
world, by including the "other" half of the population in our narrative.

        Lastly, a mundane hint on how to contextualize. No matter what
stretyegy you use, it is also helpful to students to construct a time line
chart, which dates various "historica events" and then puts into parallel
columns events relating to social, intellectual, women's history and to the
history of racial minorities. Students can refer to this as they read
assigned texts and can be given assignments requiring them to construct
certain parts of that time-line, which will teach them how to put things
into relationship to each other.

        Well, that's all. Thank you for the chance to participate in this
discussion. Gerda Lerner