Archive | December, 2011

Women, Work, and Citizenship

30 Dec

I present to you for comment and criticism a reading list for a proposed undergraduate reading seminar on “Women, Work, and Citizenship.”

But before I get to that, I’d like to say by way of introduction and excuse, my absence on this blog over the past several months is due largely to the coursework I subjected myself to during the fall quarter. In addition to the intensive reading requirements, I almost convinced myself that my attention to those two courses prevented me from focusing on issues related to women and gender that readers here might find interesting. But then I remembered that one of the seminars was “Nations, Nationalism, and Gender” in the Cross-Cultural Women’s and gender History program. And, in fact, I was exposed on a weekly basis to challenging and exciting feminist scholarship. Ooops.

Two of the more interesting works worth mentioning here include Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities and Diana Taylor’s Disappearing Acts. Anderson’s work, which I suspect many of you are familiar with, provided our starting point. Its presence in any discussion on nationalism is probably second to none and it certainly offered some useful conceptual terminology and a definition of nationalism (i.e., imagined, communal, sovereign, limited). However, it seems to me that the almost complete absence of women and gender in his argument makes this supposedly seminal work of limited use. The real tipping point for me came near the end of the book when he stated that “the family has traditionally been conceived as the domain of disinterested love and solidarity.”[1] Not one of patriarchal authority and the basic unit of society based on the subjugation of women, but a happy place of puppy dogs and ice cream. Gag me. Although my professor (also my advisor) did not let on this reading was a set up for the works we were scheduled to read, all of the readings that followed provided a gender-oriented account of nationalism that diminished the relevance of Anderson.

Taylor’s work on the other hand was inspiring. Using an interesting combination of feminist and performance theories she examines the military dictatorships of twentieth-century Argentina and argues that the representations of nationalism and gender “are coterminous and mutually reinforcing.” [2] Although she looks at the political leadership of Argentina throughout the century, her primary interests are the military juntas that controlled the country between 1976-1983 during which more than 30,000 people “disappeared” and the years following the military’s brutal rule when Argentinians attempted to come to terms with the violence. In that healing process Taylor observed a disturbing degree of misogyny reminiscent of the junta’s rule. Thus her second compelling argument is that “acts of resistance”–which include acts of remembering and forgetting–“tend to reproduce the language and logic of oppression in their attempts to challenge them.” [3] While the acts of violence committed by the junta are depicted by playwrights and novelists as aberrant, the female bodies they are inscribed upon, the affirmation of an aggressive heterosexuality, and the disembodiment of women by using motherhood and prostitute motifs that hide the “historical and material conditions of real women” relies upon and reconstitutes a historical patriarchy eerily consistent regardless of who wields political power. [4] It’s a very powerful and engaging book.

You can click the link on this page to download the entire reading list.

But the real reason I am posting here today is to share my reading list. CCWgH is also my minor field and to satisfy the program’s requirement for certification I must develop an undergraduate history course syllabus and write a justification for the readings I’ve chosen. I’ll spare you the full 20-page essay I wrote but here is a brief explanation of the imagined course and the readings I’ve selected. Admittedly, an important if unstated rationale for the choices I’ve made is my ignorance of the variety available to me. That is where you come in. Please, if you have any suggestions about other sources–including primary sources that might make engaging additions–let me know. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated.

Course Description: This course will examine, from a cross-cultural perspective, a few of the many ways in which women engage in productive labor. We will chart a roughly sequential process that pivots around the development of modern industrialization beginning with slavery and household-based production through the types of work brought about by industry’s tendency to urbanize and globalize the work force. In addition to gaining a deeper understanding of the types of work women perform, we will attempt to understand how that experience defines a woman’s claim to citizenship or their relationship to the state and other citizens. Finally, this course will examine these questions from the perspective of several different cultures or regions of the world to further enrich our understanding of the historical contingencies and possibilities.

Week 1 – Theory

Scott, Joan. “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis.” In Gender and the Politics of History, 28-50. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Boydston, Jeanne. “Gender as a Question of Historical Analysis.” Gender & History 20, no. 3 (2008): 558-583.

Thomas, Janet. “Women and Capitalism: Oppression or Emancipation? A Review Article.” Comparative Studies in Society and History 30, no. 3 (1988): 534-49.

Week 2 – Slavery

Morgan, Jennifer L. Laboring Women: Reproduction and Gender in New World Slavery. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004.
Introduction; Ch. 4, “Hannah and Hir Children”: Reproduction and Creolization Among Enslaved Women; Ch. 5, “Women’s Sweat”: Gender and Agricultural Labor in the Atlantic World

Colleen Vasconcellos, “From Chattel to ‘Breeding Wenches’: Girlhood in a Jamaican Slave Community.” In Girlhood: A Global History, edited by Jennifer Helgren and Colleen Vasconcellos, 325-343. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2010.

Wright, Marcia. “Mama Meli.” In Strategies of Slaves & Women: Life Stories from East/Central Africa, 91-124. New York: Lilian Barber Press, 1993.

Week 3 – Pre-industrial Production

Boydston, Jeanne. Home and Work: Housework, Wages, and the Ideology of Labor in the Early Republic. New York: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Week 4 – Industrialization

Honig, Emily. Sisters and Strangers: Women in the Shanghai Cotton Mills, 1919-1949. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1986. Introduction; Chs. 5 – Conclusion

Week 5 – Industrialization

Coffin, Judith G. “Gender and the Guild Order: The Garment Trades in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” The Journal of Economic History 54, no. 4 (1994): 768-93.

Scott, Joan. “Work Identities for Men and Women: The Politics of Work and Family in the Parisian Garment Trades in 1848.” In Gender and the Politics of History, 93-112. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

_______. “L’ouvriére! Mot impie, sordide…”: Women Workers in the Discourse of French Political Economy, 1840-1860.” In Gender and the Politics of History, 139-163. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Week 6 – Entrepreneurs

Hartigan-O’Connor, Ellen. “‘She Said She Did Not Know Money’: Urban Women and Atlantic Markets in the Revolutionary Era.” Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 4, no. 2 (2006): 322-52.

_______. “Abigail’s Accounts: Economy and Affection in the Early Republic.” Journal of Women’s History 17, no. 3 (2005): 35-58.

Week 7 – Organized Labor

Ruiz,Vicki. Cannery Women, Cannery Lives: Mexican Women, Unionization, and the California Food Processing Industry, 1939-1950. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.

Week 8 – The Informal Economy/Prostitution

White, Luise. The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. Ch. 1, Introduction: Prostitution in Comparative Perspective; or, Casual Sex and Casual Labor; Ch. 2, Livestock, Labor, and Reproduction: Prostitution in Nairobi and the East African Protectorate, ca. 1900-1918; Ch. 7, Prostitution in Nairobi during World War II, 1939-45

Week 9 – Migratory Labor

Lan, Pei-Chia. “Among Women: Migrant Domestics and Their Taiwanese Employers Across Generations.” In Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, 169-189. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002.

Zarembka, Joy M. “America’s Dirty Work: Migrant Maids and Modern-Day Slavery.” In Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, 142-153. New York: Holt, 2002.

Whalen, Carmen Teresa. “Labor Migrants or Submissive Wives: Competing Narratives of Puerto Rican Women in the Post-World War II Era.” In Puerto Rican Women’s History: New Perspectives, edited by Linda Delgado and Felix Matos Rodriguez, 206-226. Armonk, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 1998.

Week 10 – “Globalization”

Misra, Joya, Jonathan Woodring, Sabine N. Merz, “The Globalization of Care Work: Neoliberal Economic Restructuring and Migration Policy,” in Globalizations 3, no. 3 (2006): 317-332.

Sassen, Saskia. “Global Cities and Survival Circuits.” In Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, edited by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, 254-274. New York: Holt, 2002.

Glenn, Evelyn Nakano. “The Dialectics of Wage Work: Japanese-American Women and Domestic Service, 1905-1940.” Feminist Studies 6, no. 3 (1980): 432-71.

[1] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism rev. ed. (New York: Verso, 2006), 144.

[2] Diana Taylor, Disappearing Acts: Spectacles of Gender and Nationalism in Argentina’s “Dirty War” (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), 95.

[3] Taylor, Disappearing Acts, 237.

[4] Taylor, Disappearing Acts, 205.


Conference Take Two

23 Dec

I’d like to add my own thoughts on the WHA conference Chelsea, Jordan, and I attended in October and in particular the Roundtable “Women and the WHA at Fifty Years.”

But, before I get to that, you must know how fantastic were the presentations Jordan and Chelsea delivered. Sure, I’m biased, but only towards exciting and challenging scholarship. Jordan traced the travels and activism of Navajo artist R.C. Gorman and although you’ll not find one word about his sexual orientation in the avalanche of studies about his art, for much of his career he was openly gay and lived with his partner in San Francisco before they moved back to New Mexico and eventually split. And as I’m sure many of you know already, Chelsea raised important questions centered on the Daughters of Bilitis, a very early gay rights organization on the west coast and uncovers “gendered understandings of identity and rights that suggest feminist-like discourse and action well before the take-off of the second wave feminism.”†

It may seem like I am piling on the criticism Chelsea has already put forth, but my experience of this panel was equally disconcerting. In addition to many of the absurdities already mentioned, the “discussion” began with several of the panelists making it a point to mention that one of the truly important ways in which WHA conferences touched their lives was the fact that they met their husbands at the conference. Now, I’m all for romance and love. However, to illustrate the importance of the conference for women’s history, let’s just say it ranks pretty low from my perspective.

The discussion about engaging grad students was equally absurd. One audience member, in her attempt to illustrate the distance she would go to show support for our increased participation told the audience she actually sat in on a panel featuring graduate students. “It didn’t suck” was the gist of her assessment and why “it wouldn’t be a total waste of time” for more senior historians to show their support.

And what was to come of this collective brainstorm? Nothing really. Sure, not all ideas or questions need to turn into actionable items. But much like the rest of the discussion, there appeared to be no real intent to do anything with any of the ideas that were raised. Not even a subcommittee to look into the matter further was proposed, no “blueprint for the next fifty years.” And what many of the problems raised such as grad student involvement had to do with women and the WHA was also a bit of a mystery.

The questions this spectacle left in my mind relate to bigger questions I’ve been struggling with recently about whether women and gender and sexuality studies are best left as separate fields of inquiry or whether historians are conscious enough of their importance to incorporate them appropriately. Let’s just say I’m more firmly in the camp of segregation following this roundtable. But more on this in the near future.

Overall, I was left with the impression that while historically the conference has not been openly hostile to women and provides opportunities to present women and gender research, much work remains to be done before it can be said that we have achieved “gender”* equality. And it seems to me that several of the barriers to achieving that equality could have been found in that same hotel ballroom. As Chelsea also concludes, it was a wasted opportunity.

† Chelsea Del Rio, “A Freer Human Being: Finding Feminism in Lesbian’s Pursuit of Identity, Partnership, and Community” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western Historical Association, Oakland, CA, October 15, 2011).

* Thank you, Joan Scott, for completely confusing me on whether I should be talking about biological or cultural differences or whether the critical use of “gender” and “sex” has become so conflated that they are interchangeable.  (Scott, Joan. “Some More Reflections on Gender and Politics.” In Gender and the Politics of History, 199-218. Rev. ed. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.)

Thoughts on a Conference

10 Dec

We three authors have been far too quiet for far too long.  Blame the joys of the third year – teaching and grading, language requirements, and of course, prelims/exams/quals reading.

A small part of that silence is due to the October weekend we spent together in Oakland, CA at the Western History Association Conference.  For the first time since we graduated from Sac State with our MAs over two years ago, we got to enjoy one another’s company and be supportive history nerd friends in person.  Jordan and I successfully presented papers together on a panel titled Negotiation of Identities in Alternative Communities: Hippies, Queers, and Lesbians in the U.S. West, 1950s-1970s.  Amidst all of the regular conference goings on we reconnected with old mentors, made new friends, talked each other through the most recent trials of Ph.D. school, toasted and cheered, and even speculated on the hair styles of certain well known historians.

Other than our post-presentation glow (thanks to suggestions of publication and comparisons to historian rock stars), what most preoccupied our late night chatting was the round table that examined women and the WHA at the 50 year mark.  The women of this round table engaged the audience in a conversation of women scholars and women’s scholarship throughout the organizations history.

The second generation of women historians critiqued WHAs record of including women, offending the first generation of the organizations’ female scholars who found home and acceptance there.  Eventually, both groups set about speculating how to encourage young scholars and graduate students to participate in WHA.  Not one person turned to those of us “youngsters” in the room to simply ask.  What could have been a fruitful and empowering dialogue devolved into far too much telling, accusing, and anger.  I have no way to speak to any experiences but my own at that moment, but I found in that room a lost opportunity.

This round table experience was reminiscent of so many feminist board meetings and gatherings.  I was struck once again of how divisive generational lines become among women (or even more broadly of diverse groups with shared concerns).  Why does the feminist ethic of common interest and cooperation so often falter with differences of age?  Perhaps part of this comes from the built-in professional dynamics of advisor/advisee relations that are commonly (though not always) distinguished by age.  Still, if we are to strengthen women’s role in the field of history and in professional associations, as well as furthering research about women, we must find ways to traverse generational gaps.

What we had hoped would be an empowering afternoon left us frustrated and disappointed.  I don’t have many answers other than encouraging genuine exchange and honest efforts to listen to each other; conversations that aren’t bound by traditional mentor/mentee power dynamics.

Fortunately, we history nerds were together to work out our thoughts on this and other ups and downs of the conference – a pretty great place for the conversation to begin.