Needed - History of Feminism

From: Linda Purrington (
Date: Mon Jan 31 2000 - 12:43:40 EST

  • Next message: Cary Brown: "Re 5: Empowering the girl-child"

    Reposted with the permission of Karen Offen. --Linda Purrington, Title
    IX Advocates,

    Karen Offen wrote:
    > Dear all,
    > My name is Karen Offen, a historian and independent scholar affiliated
    > the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Stanford University. I
    > came on this list rather late in November, after teaching for 5 weeks at
    > the Central European University in Budapest. My students came from all
    > Eastern Europe and the former Soviet republics. I taught courses on the
    > history of European feminism and on the close historical relationship of
    > nationalism and feminism in a variety of European countries. All of this
    > was as new to them as could be, and they reveled in it. It would be new
    > most North Americans as well, not to mention people in all other parts of
    > the world.
    > Most recently, I have completed a book on the history of feminism in
    > (primarily in the continental European societies) from 1700-1950, which
    > will be published early next year (Stanford University Press). But before
    > that I have been deeply engaged both in international organizing of
    > historians of women and in attempting to get more women's history into
    > California schools -- not with any great degree of success, it should be
    > added.
    > In all the discussions I have seen about empowering the girl child on
    > list, there seems to be a missing element - teaching girls the history of
    > feminism. For it is not only women's history girls don't get taught, but
    > more significantly for their empowerment, the past of all the efforts
    > the successes and the failures) that have been made to end women's
    > subordination. This is a very long and very rich history, one that
    > issues about girls' education, the legal situation of wives, women's
    > economic opportunities, women's efforts to gain citizenship and political
    > recognition, and about the politics of sexual control and knowledge
    > It is a mind-boggling story - one that remains virtually suppressed in
    > every known school curriculum.
    > As Susan Groves[***] pointed out, we have difficulties with incorporating
    > women's history into our schools - even in a state that has a rather
    > progressive history/social studies framework for its curriculum, paying
    > service to equality of the sexes in education but not delivering on it.
    > only rarely does a good dose of women's history get taught, except
    > during women's history month (March). This is due in large part to the
    > that the teachers (many of whom are women) have never learned any women's
    > history themselves. And when it comes to the history of feminism, they
    > (like many of us in earlier times) may know something about the suffrage
    > campaigns in the US, and about Stanton and Anthony. But how many of these
    > teachers - or their counterparts in European countries, in Latin American
    > countries, or Asian or African or Middle Eastern societies - have more
    > this casual knowledge.
    > Now it's quite clear that even women can't teach girls and boys what they
    > haven't learned themselves. There are thousands of volumes of world-class
    > scholarship in women's history now in print in the western languages,
    > covering a very wide variety of topics, women's experiences, etc. But how
    > many of them can be accessed in places other than university libraries?
    > many of them are available in school libraries - where, indeed, there are
    > schools?
    > How many of you out there have ever heard of feminists such as Jeanne
    > Deroin or Jenny P. d'Hericourt in France, or Rosa Mayreder in Austria, or
    > Hedwig Dohm in Germany? or Aletta Jakobs and Rosa Manus in the
    > or Rosika Schwimmer in Hungary? How many of you are aware that struggles
    > against male domination are well documented for well over five hundred
    > years in European history alone? There are hundreds of important male
    > feminists as well who sacrificed a great deal to aid the cause of women's
    > emancipation.
    > This history now exists, but the problem is to get it out there where it
    > can be taught. Among other things, we've got to get beyond our own
    > historical narratives, to educate the public and the teachers - and the
    > mothers and fathers, so that some of this new knowledge can be
    > to those girls around the world who need it so much for their own
    > What are the national and international groups of university women doing
    > about this? Here in this country, AAUW addresses the importance of
    > and technology education for girls, but has had little to say about the
    > importance of the history of either women or feminism. I realize that
    > around the world are subject to a multitude of woes, not the least of
    > are poverty and physical and mental violence. But resistance to all this
    > so much more difficult when girls (and women) think they are alone, and
    > that the situation is novel. Let's not constantly allow the wheel to be
    > reinvented; it takes too much time and energy! Let us learn from this
    > history - how best to do that may be through oral tradition as well as
    > through books or videos. And let's be talking to the ministries of
    > education as well as to each other.
    > There is so much more to say on this topic, but this is probably enough
    > now. Thanks for your patience. It would be interesting to hear from
    > out there concerning the visibility/invisibility of the history of
    > in other parts of the world and what they think can be done to change
    > neglect - all in the context of educating girl children (and boy children
    > too).
    > Karen Offen
    > **Ask not what feminist theory can do for history, but what history can
    > for feminist theory**
    > Karen Offen
    > Senior Scholar
    > Institute for Research on Women & Gender
    > Stanford University
    > Stanford, CA 943050-8640
    > Tel: (650) 851-1908; Fax: (650) 725-0374
    > E-mail:

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