I’m A Smiple Woman Shirt
But the effort to uncover “women’s experience” also unearths a number of tensions. Perhaps most obviously, “women” do not make up a homogenous or coherent category. As decades of scholarship have shown, women’s experiences are profoundly shaped not only by their “femaleness”, but also by categories of race, class, nation, sexual orientation, age, and more. The history of birth control, again, provides an illustrative example of this fact, for if the introduction of new contraceptives was emancipatory for some women in the 20th century, it left a more complicated legacy for others. Racist and classist eugenic policies fuelled the compulsory sterilization of thousands of poor and ethnically marginalized women in the United States (and, most infamously, Nazi Germany), while women in “developing countries” became test subjects for new contraceptives at times without their explicit consent. In other countries, even voluntary birth control remained (remains) inaccessible, kept out of reach as a result of financial, religious, or cultural barriers. The experiences of some women, then, cannot stand in for all; when we slip into this, we present a skewed understanding of the past that can fuel misguided strategies in the present.
I’m A Smiple Woman Shirt
In more recent decades, gender theorists have also worked to destabilize the very idea of “woman” having a biologically-based stability that could be “recovered” unproblematically, calling on historians to think more critically about gender as a relational category and the construction of “femininity,” “masculinity” and sexuality over time. This perspective is outlined most famously in Joan Scott’s “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis”. For some historians, this shift seemed potentially troubling: would a focus on deconstruction of cultural and social texts lead us to abandon altogether the very real actors driving historical change, and the emancipatory methods of women’s history? Some gender histories have, indeed, put aside the task of “restoring women to history,” focusing instead on providing insightful take-downs of gender norms and binaries and illustrating the fluidity of gender, sexuality, and the body across time and space. But others have seen deconstruction as a tool rather than a goal , as a way to better contextualize and provide more sophisticated analysis of the way social and cultural ideologies have shaped the experiences of women, men, and everyone who falls in between or outside these categories