Archive | Scholarship RSS feed for this section

National Hispanic Heritage Month and Hispanic Lesbian History

4 Oct

September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month, a time when Americans honor the contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. I live in New Mexico, a state with a rich Hispanic culture, and I study history at the University of New Mexico. My current project uncovers how lesbians and gay men constructed formative identities, cultures, and activism in New Mexico in the 1920s through the 1980s, which has been a challenging task because of the paucity of written sources on LGBTQ history in the state. It has been even more difficult to find Hispanic lesbian voices. Hispanic women began writing about their lesbianism in fictional terms and this literature first addressed their virtual absence in history. With the rise of the Third World women’s movement and the publication of texts, starting with the work of Gloria Anzaldúa and Cherríe Moraga, a new field emerged in the 1980s.

Expanding on these beginnings, two important anthologies demonstrated the continued growth of the field: Juanita Ramos’ Campaneras: Latina Lesbians (1987) and Carla Trujillo’s Chicana Lesbians: The Girls Our Mothers Warned Us About (1990). Trujillo was born in New Mexico and her anthology includes three other women born and raised in the state and one that moved there later in life. New Mexico affords scholars an opportunity to better understand the flourishing of Hispanic lesbian representations. One space in which I have uncovered Hispanic lesbians’ historic lives is in rural areas and small towns. As historian Yolanda Chavez Leyva argues, Hispanic lesbian histories challenges the urban-based paradigm in the field as many lived at home or close to family members and negotiated their sexual orientation within familial structures rather than in large cities. I am curious to hear from other scholars who work in this field to see what spaces they have examined. Church? Work? Bars? How might LGBTQ scholars better incorporate Hispanic gay men and lesbians’ experiences into our field?

Advertisements

Is “Feminism” the Problem? A Response to “Waves”

31 Mar

My response to Chelsea’s thoughtful post is long overdue. My hesitation relates, in part, to a general agreement with many of her points. (Writing in opposition to Chelsea is a bit of a fiction.) Heck, I had given up making a counter argument several times because I am not so attached to the idea of waves nor actually use them often enough to write a refutation. I enjoy arguments that overthrow old paradigms in our understanding of the past. One of the advantages–although sometimes a disadvantage–of studying history at this level is the layers of nuance we uncover. Everything gets more complicated. A favorite word of historians has to be “problematize.” (Grrr) So settling on a simplified way of categorizing an era of the past naturally makes my Spidey sense tingle.

And yet I am not ready to abandon the notion of waves. It occurred to me after way too much thought on the subject that it is not that I am a fan of waves but rather I am not moved by the arguments against them.

I think it is probably relevant that I come at this question almost exclusively from the perspective of teaching survey courses. It seems to me that this is an important point that explains many of my differences with Chelsea’s argument. Throughout her essay, she refers to her relationship with the term primarily as an activist. Now, of course, I realize that with women’s history the two have been intimately intertwined and certainly my feminist inclinations are informed by my studies. Nevertheless, I evaluate the question of waves differently when I think about them in terms of teaching and activism. So herein lies one of my justifications for utilizing waves. I am perfectly comfortable with distinguishing between my audiences. In my own conversations with fellow history nerds, we do not rely on a periodization term to explain phenomenon or answer the “why” questions.

In terms of teaching, however, it is not possible to convey a sense of the un-ending gender activism that can be found in U.S. history throughout my lectures. Certainly, gender informs much of the history I tell. For example, a lecture on “Jacksonian Democracy” (one of my all-time favs) emphasizes the gender, as well as the racial and nativist, dimensions of democracy’s proliferation in the early nineteenth century. Likewise, a lecture on the abolition movement cannot ignore women and gender. But I cannot imagine not giving a lecture on the woman’s movement that began with Seneca Falls. Maybe one of the structural limitations of emphasizing the multifaceted aspect of gender activism beginning with 1848 is that most of the classes I have been involved with end with the Civil War so the story of the splits caused by the Fifteenth Amendment and the multiple perspectives clearly visible in late nineteenth-century feminism are “out of bounds.”

But let me cut straight to the point. My main objection to the argument against waves is that I simply do not agree that we cannot recast our understanding of waves. And this gets to the title of my post. This may be a well-worn topic or argument that others have worked out to their satisfaction and the idea of tossing the word “feminist” overboard with “waves” is somewhat absurd. (The term “feminist” or “feminism” occurs no fewer that 66 times in the program for the three-day Women’s Liberation conference our very own Chelsea Del Rio just presented at.) But, really, I cannot help but think that all of the criticism directed towards the concept of waves could just as easily be said about the term feminism. In fact, of all the books I’ve read on gender activism in the second half of the twentieth century, they are nearly unanimous in the criticism the authors level against the narrow ideas of feminists and feminism–exactly the criticism Chelsea and many others have articulated. So why do we not propose getting rid of that term? Although I for one am more than happy to stretch its meaning and use it to describe women and activism in the nineteenth century, its pedigree, usage, and understanding is as white, heteronormative, and middle-class as they come.*

Is it problematic to call myself a feminist when depending on who you are talking to it can mean the right to abortion and contraception or it could mean the right to bear children? If someone like Sarah Palin can claim to be a feminist, doesn’t that indicate a bigger problem with the term than a historical periodization? The thinking this post has generated in my own mind is almost enough to make me crazy. Do we want a conception of feminism that is vacuous enough to incorporate a multitude of sometimes-contradictory perspectives and objectives? A one-size-fits-all feminism? To me, that would seem to be an underlying hope of the arguments posed against waves. And, ironically, that is exactly the criticism of the scholars who’s work is cited to refute waves.

Recasting our understanding of waves–and teaching exactly that–“hey, we have a much broader understanding of what gender activism in the 1960s and 1970s looked like”–is what I love about teaching history. It gives me an amazing opportunity to demonstrate to students that history is interpretation. It gives me the chance to talk about who gets to interpret history and why it gets interpreted in a particular way. I fail to see how acknowledging that the second wave was actually much bigger than originally taught negates the notion that at a particular period of time, there was a mass movement aimed at undercutting the hegemony of patriarchy. Recasting the second wave is exactly what these new works are doing.

I suppose I am making a similar argument as Hewitt but the radio waves makes no sense to me. It’s a little too forced or clever. And I do not see much of a difference between saying there were lots of little waves and there was no wave. Yes, the notion of a wave swallows a whole lot of nuance, but it is more than just shorthand. It also makes a claim about a particular historical period.

Not to go too far off topic, but I’ve been thinking a lot these days about analogies with the Cold War (since we are seeing in recent events that it may be the Cold War didn’t actually end in 1989). A lot of great work has been in recent decades to demonstrate that it was not just about high-level political diplomacy or military strategy. Our understanding of the Cold War has been recast to include a whole host of non-military related consequences such as race, sexuality, and domestic policy.

My other main objection to ditching waves is the stripping away of historical context it requires. Yes, work on the ERA went on during a period we (perhaps unfairly) call the “doldrums.” But I cannot accept that the work done on passing it from 1925-1965 is of the same historical significance as that which occurred between 1965-1980. (Certainly it does not include the same drama with the potential to captivate undergraduates.) There is a similar debate going on in African American history. I just read a great article by Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies.” In it, the authors lay low the attempts by recent scholars to collapse all activity for African American civil rights into a single movement. I found striking similarities between their points and my own feelings about feminist waves. Keita Cha-Jua and Lang argue that the failure to distinguish between different moments and actors in the Black Liberation Movement, “exaggerate[s] continuity” and, again, what I see as an irony of wave criticism, has “the tendency to flatten chronological, conceptual, and geographic differences” (266, 269).

Avoiding ruptures between generations of feminists does not seem like a good guide to doing history. There are/were ruptures between generations (especially) and there were/will be differences between activists in terms of objectives and strategies. I am not convinced that waves are the problem.

No doubt I have somewhat misrepresented the views of wave critics to the extent that I believe they are arguing for a view of women’s history that seeks to include every voice under one happy feminist umbrella. But that is the inference or logical conclusion to wiping out waves that I imagine.

All of that aside, the fact is that when I teach U.S. history, I rarely refer to “waves.” I just don’t find the concept that interesting. When I teach the first half of American history (1500-1865) and I reach the mid-nineteenth century, I do not have a lecture on “The First Wave.” But, the wave concept would nevertheless be a justification for when and what I discussed in the context of political and social protests by women. The same is true for the second half of US history. Although, actually, this quarter, I am teaching US history from 1865 to “present” and I am giving a lecture on “1960s Protest” that is supposed to encompass “every” social revolution of the period. How about that for a wave?!

Finally, let me just say that I could be convinced to support a ban on using the wave concept provided that all plays on the word wave were also banned from titles dealing with the question.

Cha-Jua, Sundiata Keita and Clarence Lang. “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies.” The Journal of African American History 92, no. 2 (Spring, 2007): 265-288.

Hewitt, Nancy. “Feminist Frequencies: Regenerating the Wave Metaphor,” Feminist Studies 38, no. 2 (Fall 2012).

*One of my favorite exercises teaching nineteenth-century women’s history is to ask my students to make an argument about why Catharine Beecher or Louisa McCord was a feminist.

on leaving waves to the beach

13 May

Fellow feministhistorynerd Tom and I argued over the utility of the wave framework regularly during prelims. Over wine/beer/coffee my friends and I regularly debate whether to continue talking in terms of “waves.” I engage in ongoing discussions with activists about whether there are any useful indicators of political stance in identifying as a second or third (or fourth) wave feminist. Recently, in the the more formal setting of a Women’s History Month panel, I was asked to describe my relationship to the metaphor. Again and again, I find myself struggling with a concept that once seemed to me a matter of fact.

There has been a good deal of scholarship recently pushing us to reconsider how we do the history of feminisms. It is exciting to see this conversation happening, to engage with the literature, and to consider what theses shifts mean in the world of contemporary activism. A lot has been said that I agree with; I won’t reiterate it here. What I don’t find compelling is the argument that the solution to the limitations of the wave trope comes in recasting our understanding of waves. Reframing waves (such as thinking of them as radio waves) is clever, but it isn’t the solution to a historical framework that creates ruptures, conflicts, and oppositions where they need not exist. We are at the point in which we can do justice to historical specificity without using arbitrary boundaries. In my world, where my roles of scholar and activist are inseparable, there is no longer any place for conceptual waves.

To be sure, I acknowledge the important roles that the concepts of “first wave feminism” and second wave feminism” have served in recovering and legitimating a world of women’s activism. Historians have developed the field of women’s history and created spaces for it in the sweeping narratives of American history by using this concept. Thinking in terms of waves empowered certain feminists in the 1960s and 1970s who found strength in the idea of building on the legacy of past generations. And then there’s the fact that it is simply useful shorthand. It is a lot easier to reference “the second wave” rather than use the wordy descriptions like “women’s rights activism in the 1960s and the 1970s” or “women’s liberation of the post-war era.”

What defines these waves? Periods of heightened activity and accomplishment in advancing gender equality. No doubt I’m grateful for the vote, the right to determine if and when to reproduce (as tenuous as these rights are at present), and the concepts such as sexual harassment that help me to understand when I’m being treated inappropriately, to name but a few of the victories that highlight waves. But the periodization of these waves prioritizes certain advances over others and ignores the uneven access women have to such gains when we consider class, race, and sexuality. Thus, “wave feminism” as a framework is biased towards the liberal, white, middle-class heterosexual woman.

This image of what defines the majority of 20th century feminisms persists even if the face of a growing body of literature that demonstrates a much greater diversity of activism motivated by a desire for women’s liberation. These new works dispute first and second wave periodization by showing us that feminism persisted in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. They also disrupt the persistent narrow image of what sixties and seventies feminism was, showing feminist motivations among women of color working in race politics and in women-driven movements such as welfare reform and housing advocacy. We are beginning to see vast new spaces of gender activism in which diverse groups of women challenged a patriarchal society in ways that addressed the intersectional oppression.

Yet the wave trope that created a narrative of feminisms which excludes women of color, lesbian, and working class activism continues to dominate. What was created to recover one portion of women’s rights activism has come to stand for the entire story. I do not deny the significance of the gains that came from the women who populate this traditional narrative; their accomplishments were remarkable. But they did not work alone and maintaining the false trope of the second wave hides from view the diverse groups of women who fought to create a new system of gender norms and rights for women, whether alongside traditionally recognized feminists or in their own spaces. Focusing critique on the framework specifically is not meant to deny the spaces where racism, classism, or heterosexism marginalized minority women. We have to consider differential access to power and the tools necessary to create change. But a more constructive approach is to consider the specific spaces, organizations, and events where problems erupted as part of a broader, more complex picture of the multiple feminisms that have historically operated in unison. The persistent stereotypes of wave feminism limit our understanding of historical realities of gender activism.

This isn’t just a scholarly issue. The intimate connections between academia and feminism mean that misunderstanding the past influences the ways generations of feminists relate to one another (a misunderstanding that flows in both directions). Scholar Nancy Hewitt astutely describes the ways in which each wave defines itself as righting the wrongs of the previous, particularly with regards to diversity and inclusion.* This need not be defined in generational terms – all engaged, contemporary feminists are capable of seeing ways we can further gender equality given the advancements made over the decades that precede us. We can strive to break down barriers that continue to exist and address the weakness of predecessors without trashing or dismissing those who came before us. And just because rising feminists look to the past to determine how modern feminisms can improve does not mean we lack appreciation and respect for all that came before us. As a historian and an intergenerational activist, I commonly feel myself floating in between opposing camps of feminism. What I find is that there is so much more that unites than divides, if only we would listen to one another and rid ourselves of a metaphor that says our birth date defines our politics. There are veteran feminists in my life who know better than I what it means to put one’s life on the line for racial equality or know their way around queer politics better than many of my own generational peers. For me, defining myself as a third wave feminist (or a second or a fourth) means defining myself in opposition to the very people with whom I want to learn, work alongside, and celebrate successes (and, of course, do shots of tequila with during moments of backlash and defeat).

Feminism is a cacophony. We are better served by seeing the simultaneous multiplicities of women’s activism, past and present. This is why we need to talk and write inclusively about feminisms, not waves of feminism. Rejecting waves has enriched my life as an activist and empowered me to think creatively as a scholar. So no waves in my dissertation, except for maybe the occasional California lesbian feminist beach scene.

 

*Nancy Hewitt, “Feminist Frequencies: Regenerating the Wave Metaphor,” Feminist Studies 38, no. 2 (Fall 2012)

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.)

A feminist by any other name?

18 Sep

As if the term “feminist” wasn’t tricky enough in our daily lives (not tricky bad, just tricky complicated), trying to figure how, when, where, and for whom to use it when writing about the past is exponentially more so.   There are, of course, those easy cases in which women (and men, too) claimed the identity proudly. But what about all of the cases in which individuals lived their lives in feminist ways, or when groups act collectively to improve the lives of women, but did not publicly claim the title?  Perhaps they didn’t identify with the term, perhaps they weren’t familiar with it, or perhaps the term wasn’t available to them.  Regardless the reason, how do we discuss and explain their history?

On October 15th I am presenting a paper at the Western Historical Association about the Daughter’s of Bilitis (DOB), a lesbian group founded in 1955.  The eight founders initially envisioned a social group that would create a space for lesbian friendship during an oppressive social climate.  Within a year, a few of the original members and several new ones set out to improve the lives of lesbians by creating a publication (The Ladder), holding informational sessions (such as what to do when arrested at a gay bar), and evaluating the medical literature that defined them as deviants.  Many members would come to publicly identify as feminists and join feminist organizations as women’s liberation exploded onto the scene at the end of the 1960s.  They claimed no such identity, however, for most of the organizations first ten years.

My closest colleagues know I have been preoccupied for some time with DOB (as well as other public lesbians in the decades preceding Stonewall) and what appear to be actions, ideas, and sentiments that are “feministesque”.  Or at least, the seem to be feminist to me.   They maintained the significance of woman only space.  They asserted the need for fair employment and wages.  They debated the ways in which their experience of homosexuality was gendered.  They responded to limitations, inequalities, and dangers as gay women.   Do I call them feminists?  Do I call their work feminist in nature?  Do I describe them as “protofeminist?”   Is an activist for women’s rights by any other name still a feminist?

How do you define and use identity categories and terms in your work?  How do you define feminist pasts?  How do you use the term in your scholarship?

Welcome, from Three Feminist History Nerds!

19 Aug

A merry little trio are we, even though we now find ourselves scattered across three different states, at three different universities, in three different regions of the country.

Once upon a time, in a small MA program in California, our advisor and favorite women’s history professor Becky Kluchin suggested we form a writing group.  The sheer panic brought on by impending Ph.D. applications and thesis writing was all the motivation we needed to agree it was a sound idea, even if we didn’t know each other very well.  Fortunately, Becky is an excellent match-maker and we fell into easy, supportive friendships.  Completing our MA degrees would have been exponentially harder without one another.  More importantly, during that year together we developed relationships that are sustaining us throughout our academic careers (and our personal lives, too).

It is probably not the best idea to embark on a new project right now.  The breadth of commitments we have is already overwhelming.  In addition to the rigors of our history Ph.D. programs – courses, grading, teaching, language study, research, writing, prelims/exams/quals, conferences, panels, workshops – we also face a slew of other life responsibilities:  children, partners, cats, dogs, union organizating, feminist activism, and social lives that we try desparately to maintain.  Still, during one of our monthly phone chats, we agreed to add a blog to the mix.  We wanted a way to continue (and expand) the enriching conversations we began four years ago.

The title and blog Feminist History Nerds works in a few different ways.  First (and most obviously), this is a space to share feminist history.  Second, as Tom and Chelsea’s inaugural posts show, it is a place to consider what it means to be a feminist scholar and to do feminist work.  And finally, as graduate students, it is a place to work out the various curiosities, questions, and interests that arise as we go about our research and suss out our profession.  We are certain that with prelims afoot there will be no shortage of possible content (time, however, is another story).

Feminist History Nerds invites you to join us as active participants.  This project will work best for all of us if you contribute to the conversations we start and the questions we pose.  Comment, challenge, debate, share, and even join us as guest bloggers!  And of course ideas and opinions needn’t be related strictly to the work of an historian. We are at least as interested in how these ideas work outside the context of our research and university. It is a happy little feminist world we are creating here and we look forward to your company along the way.

Is it problematic to identify with the history you study?

18 Aug

Last semester, in a graduate writing course, I worked on a paper about radical feminist group The Furies.  During peer review a colleague said he got the sense that I “really like” my subjects and accused me of glorifying them.  I make no secret of the fact that I too am a lesbian feminist.  While Tom ponders being a man doing women’s work, so to speak, I ponder the question, what does it mean to identify (too?) closely with my subjects?  To share their sexual identity and many of their political beliefs?

In this same course there were several other scholars studying people with whom they identified in some way: race, ethnicity, education, religion, region.  Not one of them had their credibility questioned in the way mine was on several occasions.  Ultimately, the critique ended with, “these were just 12 women living in a house together – how important can they really be?”  Aside from the fact that my analysis of their historical significance is in line with the other historians who have studied them in-depth, I explained the evidence of their influence every week.  Most of our classmates studied equally small groups or relatively unknown individuals and yet somehow their work registered as legitimate.  Lesbian history just wasn’t important enough to register.

The humorous part of an insult that implied my work is driven not by historical material but my own politics is that, it too, was politically motivated.  Clearly, this individual devalues lesbians to the point of historical insignificance while also singling out a lesbian feminist voice as somehow problematic and “other.”   The thing is, we are all political.  All historians are motivated in various ways by their identities and values.  And in some way, we all connect with the people in the narratives we construct.  A heterosexual man writing a history of the The Furies would not relate to the members as I did, but that does not mean he would not have opinions about the behavior, the politics they pursued, or the changes they were trying to create.  And I guarantee that as a man, such a scholar would consider and relate to the men from whom these women sought to separate.  The issue is not whether you identity with your subjects as I do, or question your place as a scholar of the subjects you choose,  as Tom does at times.  Rather, it is about the consciousness you bring to every step of the process.

Those who know me well understand that I am pretty self-reflective about how my personal identity relates to, supports, and yes, hinders the work that I do.  There were moments in my thesis writing a few years ago when my advisor stopped me and said, Chelsea, these sentences sound angry.  She was right.  It was a learning moment, and the start of a process in which I constantly engage in a dialogue with myself about the questions I am asking, that arguments I am making, the sources I am using, and so on.  Isnt’ that something we should ask and expect of all scholars?  And as much as this is a solitary process, it is a collective one too.  We share late night discussions in department hallways when a spark ignites a new perspective, we swap drafts of papers and chapters, we suggest books to read and scholars to engage, and we shoot off sleep-deprived and coffee-hazed emails in what seem to be moments of brilliance.  Ultimately, we learn to find our own voices by understanding those of others.  This includes the voices of the women I study.

Yes, I identify with the people I study.  With a critical eye I am the better for it, not simply because of our commonalities, but because it pushes me to engage in an honest, regular conversation with myself about who I am and the scholarship I produce.

What does a feminist historian look like?

16 Aug

Let’s get this party started, shall we.

I have a question: can a man be an historian of women?

On the face of it, and even under further scrutiny, the answer undoubtedly would be “heck yeah.” There are of course examples of very successful male historians of female history. And yet, I have moments of serious doubt. Interestingly, however, that doubt is based on very little empirical evidence or lived experience. I have maintained an interest in women’s history for most of my “career” and cannot recall but a single time when someone suggested my course of study was not a good idea. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate career I have taken many courses on the history of women in various fields and not once has an instructor or fellow student suggested that my presence was inappropriate. I have written graduate school statements of purpose, met with professors about my areas of interest and course of study, and visited libraries and archives with the express purpose of studying women in American history. Only once did someone raise a question about the propriety of my studying women in American history.

I recently joined the Western Association of Women Historians because (1) I am–well, all except the part about being a woman–and (2) I hope to attend if not present a paper at their annual conference (“Short Skirted Harpies: Sex and Gender in San Francisco’s 1892 Anti-Dive Campaign”) next May. I have avoided joining this illustrious organization for several years now because the thought of being a male among a group of primarily female historians makes me slightly uncomfortable. In my personal life, I have always been a bit of an outsider so I have learned to avoid situations where that feeling is easily exacerbated. But I joined in part to find out if that feeling of discomfort and the one time I was cautioned about my plans has merit.

I should like to clarify that I have a great deal of respect for the professor who cautioned me. He is a veteran of the profession to say the least and he made no mistake that he is primarily interested in my success and would not want to see me get stuck in a field that I will have a hard time finding it.

I suppose I could go on at great length about my own experiences and psychology (both of which are inextricable to the work of an historian) on the subject. In fact, as I write this post and attempt to organize the conflicting and deep-seated thoughts I have about the topic I am left with only the hope that this modest effort models and spurs the type of conversations this blog intends to provoke.

Can a man be an historian of women? I think so. I hope so. Because I do not have a back up plan or desire.