Needed - History of Feminism

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

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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