Philobiblon: Wave X of feminism

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Wave X of feminism

In England and American we've had, according to common labels, second and perhaps third wave feminism: thoroughly ethnocentric labels.

The first-wave of feminism, although we'll never be able to recover it unless time machines are invented, was probably paleolithic, but reading any period of history the continual presence of such "waves" soon become obvious.

I'm reading Natalie Zemon Davis's Society and Culture in Early Modern France, which contains her famous essay on "Women on Top". (It must be the single most-cited article that I've come across so I thought I had to buy the book: abebooks came through again, it's amazing how often American bookshops are cheaper, even with the postage. The price of the book was about £1!)

Writing about charivaris, "a noisy, masked demonstration to humiliate some wrongdoer in the community", Davis says: that while in the countryside protests against second marriages were dominant, in the cities most common were those against domineering wives. She says: "there were important and little-understood changes going on in the relations between men and women in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, reflected in the charivaris against henpecked husbands, in the worsening position of women in French law, and in the independent interest of some city women in Protestantism." (Stanford Uni Press, 1979, p. 117.)

So much historical writing still seems to read the conduct books and other injunctions to women and assume they were meek and complicit in their own oppression; I very much doubt that has ever been the case!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, that book is now almost 40 years old (it was in fact published in 1965). The vast numbers available and the many, many reprintings just underline its classic status. It fired me up as an undergrad (along with Ginzburg's Cheese and the Worms), and I still go back to it regularly. Truly pioneering, whether on women, 'misrule', religious violence...

I do think (academic) early modern historians have become much more sophisticated in using conduct literature in recent years (eg, I like what Alexandra Shepard does with them in her recent book on Manhood, or Tim Meldrum's work on domestic servants) and using them in conjunction with/reading them against other records. Not so sure about the 'popular' historians in this respect, though, unfortunately.


9/09/2004 09:05:00 am  
Blogger Natalie Bennett said...

It really was revolutionary when you look at the original publishing date (1979 is the edition I was using).

In the comment on conduct books I guess I was thinking of popular history, and also I suspect what many undergrads are still being taught.

Different field and a different country, but I'll never forget the (rather hopeless) first-year sociology lecturer who told a class of several hundred: "Radical feminism has nothing to offer sociology." And I doubt what he was teaching had changed in 15 years or more.

9/10/2004 01:38:00 am  

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