Model to assemble

The history of women is indispensable and essential for their emancipation. I came to this conviction both in theory and practice after researching, writing, and teaching women’s history for twenty-five years. (…)

However, most of the theoretical works of modern feminism, from Simone de Beauvoir to the present, are ahistorical and indifferent to feminist historical studies. This is understandable in the early days of new wave feminism, when studies of women’s pasts were scarce, but in the 1980s, when excellent work on women’s history is plentiful, the distance between historical studies and feminist criticism in other areas. Within fields such as anthropology, literary criticism, sociology, political science, and poetry, theoretical work has been done that relies on “history,” but the contribution of specialists in women’s history did not become part of of common speech. I believe that the reasons go beyond the sociology of women who do feminist criticism and also beyond the limits of their academic background and practice. The reasons are found in the very conflictive and problematic relationship of women with history.

What is history? We must distinguish between the unrecorded past, all past events remembered by human beings, and history, the recorded and interpreted past.

Like men, women are, and always have been, actors and agents in history. Since they represent half of humanity, and sometimes more than half, they have always shared the world and work equally with men. Women were not in any way marginal, but have been, and are, central in the construction of society and civilization. They also contributed, together with men, to the preservation of collective memory, which turns the past into a cultural tradition, creates a link between generations and connects the past with the future. The oral tradition was kept alive in the poems and myths created by both men and women and preserved in folklore, art and rituals.

Constructing history is, on the other hand, a creation that dates back to the times of the invention of writing in ancient Mesopotamia. From the time of the ancient Sumerian king lists onward, historians, whether they be priests, king’s servants, officials and clergymen or members of the professional class of university-educated intellectuals, have selected the events to be recorded and recorded them. interpreted to give them meaning and importance. Until very recently, these historians were men, and what they recorded was what men did, experienced, and found remarkable. They called this “History” and attributed a universal character to it. What the women did and experienced was not recorded and their interpretation has been left aside. Until recently, historical studies only saw women as marginal in the construction of civilization and not at all essential within what they defined as “historically important”.

In this way, what was recorded and interpreted from the past of the human race is only a partial record, since it omits the past of half of humanity. In addition, it is distorted, since it tells the story only from the point of view of the male half of humanity. To attack this argument, as has often been done, by saying that there were also many groups of men – possibly the majority – who were long removed from the historical record because of the prejudiced interpretations of intellectuals who acted on behalf of the interests of small powerful elites, is to avoid the issue. One error does not cancel the other: both conceptual errors must be corrected.

When groups that were initially subordinate, such as peasants, slaves, or the proletariat, rose to positions of power, or at least were included in politics, their experiences became part of the historical record (that is, the experience of the men in these groups, since the women, as always, were excluded). Both men and women suffered exclusion and discrimination due to his class, but no man has been excluded from the historical record due to his sex, while all women have.

They have been prevented from contributing to the writing of history, that is, to the ordering and interpretation of humanity’s past. Since this process of making sense is essential in the creation and perpetuation of civilization, we can see that the marginalization of this activity places us in a unique and separate position. We are the majority, and yet we enter social institutions as if we were a minority.

While women have been victimized by this and other aspects of their longstanding subordination to men, it would be a mistake to conceptualize them as essentially victims. This obscures what should be taken for granted regarding the historical situation of women, which is that they are essential and central in the creation of society, that they are and always will be actors and agents of history. Women have “made history” and yet they were prevented from knowing theirs and interpreting history, both their own and that of men. They have been systematically excluded from the enterprise of creating symbolic systems, philosophies, science, and law. Not only were they deprived of education throughout history in all societies, but they were also excluded from theory formation. I have called this tension between the real historical experience of women and their exclusion in the interpretation of this experience the “dialectic of women’s history”.

*Author of The Creation of Patriarchy, Paidós. (Fragment)

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