Porządek płci : Studia historyczne

Karin Hausen is a respected researcher of economic history, as well as one of the pioneers in the study of women’s and gender histories in Germany. The following publication contains six scientific articles and an essay presenting one of the basic assumptions of women’s history, i.e. the usefulness of gender as a historical category.

The first essay focuses on the homogeneity of history perceived as a historiographical challenge. Hausen begins with stating that the changes in historiography which are in accordance with its postulates in fact have already taken place. However, conscious theoretical and methodological reflection has not followed these changes. In the article, the author argues against history understood as a search for a comprehensive interpretation, as this type of historiography is primarily typical of the history of national states. Writing such a history requires prior selection of phenomena and subjects, singling out those that are worth historical passing on and rejecting those that are considered insignificant, and this procedure is also associated with clear hierarchisation of the phenomena and subjects. For national history, the part of reality concerning women turns out to be completely useless, because it is thought to be fully determined by nature. And if the gender category is included in the research on general history, it only takes the form of a supplement that does not affect the interpretation of 'really important' phenomena. According to Hausen, this attitude is still noticeable in history, be it practicing, or teaching. The author postulates a pluralistic approach to history.

As for non-homogeneity, Hausen recommends increasing the number of criteria of historical relevance and developing new methodological procedures. This would entail the rejection of the risk of ambiguity in historical phenomena, which can be interpreted differently depending on the adopted perspective, e.g. the same social events and processes could have a totally different impact on the lives of men and women. One of the examples given by the author is the thesis on the spatial separation of paid work from the place of residence and what the development of industrialization in the 19th century resulted in. Hausen is of the opinion that this process cannot be generalized because it did not apply to a large part of working people (e.g. part of married women, mothers with young children). Supporting this thesis means continuing criticized pre-selection and hierarchization, which are based on the assumption that matters that concern women are less important than those that concern men. However, if the female perspective is taken into account, the discussed thesis is modified.

Chapter two entitled “The polarization of ‘gender characters’ – a reflection of the separation of professional and family life” is the oldest text in the presented collection which has gained the classic status in the field of women’s historiography. The author attempts to follow and interpret the system of statements on the concept of ‘sexual nature’. She wonders how, by whom and thanks to which authority the redefinition of a certain aspect of gender roles occurred that initiated the discussion on this concept. The author also analyses how and thanks to whom these statements could have influenced the role of gender. The article does not present the existing results, but focuses only on interesting observations taken from a specific point of view. Hausen examines the transformation of gender relations that took place in Germany at the end of the 18th century and in the 19th century. She concludes that the specific form of the gender order in a particular era is the result of certain social processes that require analysis. These observations show that the naturalization of gender and the polarization of ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ appeared at some historical point and are by no means a ‘standard’ definition of gender or an ‘inherent’ concept in European culture.

In the third text of the presented volume, Hausen studies the history of Mother’s Day celebrations in the Weimar Republic in the period of 1923-1933, i.e. before this holiday was taken over by the new socialism. Hausen begins by showing how the idea of Mother’s Day in Germany was created, and then proceeds to an extensive analysis of the individual props used during this holiday, i.e. brochures, bookmarks, poems, etc. She is interested in both social context of Mother’s Day, propaganda associated for the celebration of the holiday, as well as the social situation of women bringing up children. Hausen also investigates the reason why men in the Weimar Republic felt the need to pay public tribute to their mothers. She also presents the connection between the World War I catastrophe as a failure of a certain masculinity model and the willingness to cherish the cult of mother that personifies completely different values, providing security and shelter, among other things.

In the text entitled “Technical progress and the work of women in the 19th century. The sewing machine in the context of social history” Karin Hausen starts from familiarising the reader with the history of sewing machines and presents numerous then-contemporary works on the subject of sewing machines. In this text, taking seamstresses-cottagers as an example, Hausen shows the relationship between gender order and specific working conditions. When it comes to determining the wages of female cottagers, assumptions about what women are allowed to do also turn out to be as important as market mechanisms of demand and supply for the goods the cottagers produce. Hausen’s research prompts her to be sceptical about the theses that interpret technical progress as a driving force for women’s emancipation. Devices such as sewing machines, telephones, or typewriters allowed women to take up paid work, which, however, was extremely low-paid, monotonous, with low social prestige and with no prospects for personal development. This text can also be categorized as a work from the field of the history of industrialization. Taking this aspect into account, there is a connection between assigning women to the domestic sphere and the way of development of the clothing industry as an industry in which mainly women work. To be more specific, this relationship is manifested in the relatively late introduction of centralized garment factories due to the fact that the production commissioned to female cottagers was cheaper, because employers did not have to invest in sewing machines that were usually bought by employees. Hausen concludes that analysing the situation of women working as seamstresses creates one quite a significant problem, i.e. the attempt to separate this form of professional work, which was to be performer at home, from typical housework and family-related responsibilities.

„Economy and gender order” is of a cross-sectional character and the author generalizes her previous research in relations to the situation of women in the labour market, focusing on the role of gender as a factor affecting the earnings and access to individual jobs. Hausen analyses several aspects, on the one hand taking into account the historical relationship between the gender division of labour and on the other the development of a market economy. She starts with discussing four stereotypes / interpretation models that, according to her, had an impact on the gender perception in the analysis and interpretation of economic and technical development. She also deals with the intensification of economic and technical transformations since the 18th century and their impact on the system of gender division of labour. In the last part of her work, Hausen presents how the culture hierarchy passed on by culture was reproduced and applied economically also in market-oriented and profit-oriented organization of production and paid work.

In chapter six entitled “Public space and privacy. Structures of social policy and the history of gender relations” Hausen supports the criticism of historiographic instrumentation. The article is more of a terminological study character. Hausen begins with the analysis of understanding and evolution of ‘private’ and ‘public’ concepts in the 18th and 19th centuries. She notes that juxtaposing the terms public space and privacy as a category of thinking about the past interferes with its description. For example, exploring the female middle class space of activity in the 19th-century requires moving away from such bipolarity. As an example, Hausen cites an English painting of the mid-19th century, which shows that women do not take part in the official celebrations in the town hall banquet, but look at scene from the gallery. The gallery does not belong to the public sphere, because the actual events take place on the dance floor. However, it also does not belong to the private sphere either, because the gathered ladies came to admire the official ceremony.

In the last chapter entitled „Patriarchy. On the advantages and disadvantages of a certain concept for women’s history and politics”, Hausen begins by analysing the words ‘patriarchate’ and ‘patriarchal’, drawing a conclusion that their present meaning is a consequence and product of the second wave of the women’s movement. This new lexical entity quickly gained a new meaning and became the main slogan of the international women’s movement, used to describe gender relations as a relationship of power. Hausen claims that the formulation of gender relations in the 19th and 20th centuries by means of these concepts is not very constructive. Her argument is based on the assumption that the pursuit of expanding one’s knowledge is a better way to conduct efficient political activity than the proclamation of slogans, which are thrilling, yet vague.

Zawarte w zbiorze artykuły naukowe i eseje demonstrują jedno z podstawowych założeń historii kobiecej, czyli użyteczność płci jako kategorii historycznej. Autorka łączy rozważania o symbolicznych wyobrażeniach na temat kobiecości i męskości z analizami danych źródłowych dotyczących dostępu kobiet do rynku pracy. Autorka szczególną uwagę poświęca mechanizmom, które wytwarzają dyskryminację kobiet, nierówności społeczne i relacje władzy. Postrzega płeć jako kategorię współkształtującą społeczeństwo na wszystkich poziomach.


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