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Women's history is the study of the role that women have played in history, together with the methods needed to study women. It includes the study of the history of the growth of woman's rights throughout recorded history, the examination of individual women of historical significance, and the effect that historical events have had on women. Inherent in the study of women's history is the belief that more traditional recordings of history have minimized or ignored the contributions of women and the effect that historical events had on women as a whole; in this respect, woman's history is often a form of historical revisionism, seeking to challenge or expand the traditional historical consensus.
The main centers of scholarship have been the U.S. and Britain, where second-wave feminist historians, influenced by the new approaches promoted by social history, led the way. As activists in women's liberation, discussing and analyzing the oppression and inequalities they experienced as women, they felt it imperative to find out about the lives of their foremothers—and found very little scholarship in print. History was written mainly by men and about men's activities in the public sphere—war, politics, diplomacy and administration. Women are usually excluded and, when mentioned, are usually portrayed in sex-stereotypical roles, such as wives, mothers, daughters and mistresses. History is value-laden in regard to what is considered historically 'worthy'.
In the 21st century women have the same rights as men, as numerous changes came in the 19th and 20th centuries; for example, for women the right to equal pay is enshrined in law. Women ran the household, bore the children, were nurses, mothers, wives, neighbours, friends and teachers. During periods of war, women were drafted into the labor market to undertake work that had been traditionally restricted to men. Following the wars, they invariably lost their jobs in industry and had to return to domestic and service roles.
The history of Scottish women in the late 19th-century and early 20th-century did not really develop as a field until the 1980s. In addition, most work on women before 1700 has been published since 1980. Several recent studies have taken a biographical approach, but other work has drawn on the insights from research elsewhere to examine such issues as work, family, religion, crime, and images of women. Scholars are also uncovering women's voices in their letters, memoirs, poetry, and court records. Because of the late development of the field, much recent work has been recuperative, but increasingly the insights of gender history, both in other countries and in Scottish history after 1700, are being used to frame the questions that are asked. Future work should contribute both to a reinterpretation of the current narratives of Scottish history and also to a deepening of the complexity of the history of women in late medieval and early modern Britain and Europe.
French historians have taken a unique approach: there has been extensive scholarship in women's and gender history despite the lack of women's and gender study programs or departments at the university level. The high level of research and publication in women's and gender history is due to the high interest within French society. The structural discrimination in academia against the subject of gender history in France is changing due to the increase in international studies, due to the formation of the European Union, and more French scholars seeking appointments outside Europe.
In the Ancien Régime in France, few women held any formal power; some queens did, as did the heads of Catholic convents. In the Enlightenment, the writings of philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau provided a political program for reform of the ancien régime, founded on a reform of domestic mores. Rousseau's conception of the relations between private and public spheres is more unified than that found in modern sociology. Rousseau argued that the domestic role of women is a structural precondition for a "modern" society.
Salic law prohibited women from rule; however, the laws for the case of a regency, when the king was too young to govern by himself, brought the queen into the center of power. The queen could assure the passage of power from one king to another—from her late husband to her young son—while simultaneously assuring the continuity of the dynasty.
Educational aspirations were on the rise and were becoming increasingly institutionalized in order to supply the church and state with the functionaries to serve as their future administrators. Girls were schooled too, but not to assume political responsibility. Girls were ineligible for leadership positions and were generally considered to have an inferior intellect to their brothers. France had many small local schools where working-class children - both boys and girls - learned to read, the better "to know, love, and serve God." The sons and daughters of the noble and bourgeois elites were given gender-specific educations: boys were sent to upper school, perhaps a university, while their sisters - if they were lucky enough to leave the house - would be sent to board at a convent with a vague curriculum. The Enlightenment challenged this model, but no real alternative presented itself for female education. Only through education at home were knowledgeable women formed, usually to the sole end of dazzling their salons.
Before the 19th Century, young women lived under the economic and disciplinary authority of their fathers until they married and passed under the control of their husbands. In order to secure a satisfactory marriage, a woman needed to bring along a substantial dowry. In the wealthier families, daughters received their dowry from their families, whereas the poorer women needed to work in order to save their wages so as to improve their chances to wed. Under the German laws, women had property rights over their dowries and inheritances, a valuable benefit as high mortality rates prompted successive marriages. Before 1789, the majority of women lived confined to society’s private sphere, the home. The Age of Reason did not bring much more for women: men, including Enlightenment aficionados believed that women were naturally destined to be principally wives and mothers. Within the educated classes there was the belief that women needed to be sufficiently educated to be intelligent and agreeable interlocutors to their husbands. However, the lower class women were expected to be economically productive in order to help their husbands make ends meet.
In the newly founded German State (1871), women of all social classes were politically and socially disenfranchised. The code of social respectability confined upper class and bourgeois women to their homes. They were considered socially and economically inferior to their husbands. The unmarried women were ridiculed and the ones that wanted to avoid social descent could work as unpaid housekeepers living with relatives, the most able could work as governesses or they could become nuns. A significant number of middle class families became impoverished between 1871 and 1890 as the pace of industrial growth was uncertain, and women had to earn money in secret by sewing or embroidery to contribute to the family income. In 1865, the Allgemeiner Deutscher Frauenverein (ADF) was founded as an umbrella organization for women's associations demanding for rights to education, employment and political participation. Three decades later, the Bund Deutscher Frauenverbände (BDF) replaced ADF and also excluded from membership the proletarian movement that was part of the latter. The two movements had differing views concerning women's place in society, and accordingly, they also had different agendas. The bourgeois movement made important contributions to the access of women to education and employment (mainly office-based and teaching). The proletarian movement, on the other hand, developed as a branch of the Social Democratic Party, and, as factory jobs became available for women, they campaigned for equal pay and equal treatment. In 1908 German women won the right to join political parties and in 1918 they were finally granted the right to vote. The emancipation of women in Germany was to be challenged in following years.
Historians have paid special attention to the efforts by Nazi Germany to reverse the political and social gains that women made before 1933, especially in the relatively liberal Weimar Republic. The role of women in Nazi Germany changed according to circumstances. Theoretically the Nazis believed that women must be subservient to men, avoid careers, devote themselves to childbearing and child-rearing, and be helpmates to the traditional dominant fathers in the traditional family. But, before 1933, women played important roles in the Nazi organization and were allowed some autonomy to mobilize other women. After Hitler came to power in 1933, the activist women were replaced by bureaucratic women, who emphasized feminine virtues, marriage, and childbirth.
As Germany prepared for war, large numbers of women were incorporated into the public sector and with the need for full mobilization of factories by 1943, all women were required to register with the employment office. Hundreds of thousands of women served in the military as nurses and support personnel, and another hundred thousand served in the Luftwaffe, especially helping to operate the anti—aircraft systems. Women's wages remained unequal and women were denied positions of leadership or control.
More than two million women were murdered in the Holocaust. The Nazi ideology viewed women generally as agents of fertility. Accordingly, it identified the Jewish woman as an element to be exterminated to prevent the rise of future generations. For these reasons, the Nazis treated women as prime targets for annihilation in the Holocaust.
Interest in the study of women's history in Eastern Europe has been delayed. Representative is Hungary, where the historiography has been explored by Petö and Szapor (2007). Academia resisted incorporating this specialized field of history, primarily because of the political atmosphere and a lack of institutional support. Before 1945, historiography dealt chiefly with nationalist themes that supported the antidemocratic political agenda of the state. After 1945, academia reflected a Soviet model. Instead of providing an atmosphere in which women could be the subjects of history, this era ignored the role of the women's rights movement in the early 20th century. The collapse of Communism in 1989 was followed by a decade of promising developments in which biographies of prominent Hungarian women were published and important moments of women's political and cultural history were the subjects of research. However, the quality of this scholarship was uneven and failed to take advantage of the methodological advances in research in the West. In addition, institutional resistance continued, as evidenced by the lack of undergraduate or graduate programs dedicated to women's and gender history at Hungarian universities.
Women's history in Russia started to become important in the Czarist era, already in the consciousness and writing of Alexander Pushkin. During the Soviet Era feminism grew strong along with ideals of equality.
Japanese women's history was marginal to historical scholarship until the late 20th century. The subject hardly existed before 1945 and, even after that date, many academic historians were reluctant to accept women's history as a part of Japanese history. The social and political climate of the 1980s in particular, favorable in many ways to women, gave opportunities for Japanese women's historiography to promote itself and also brought the subject fuller academic recognition. Exciting and innovative research on Japanese women's history began in the 1980s. Much of this has been conducted not only by academic women's historians, but also by freelance writers, journalists, and amateur historians; that is, by people who have been less restricted by traditional historical methods and expectations. The study of Japanese women's history has become accepted as part of the traditional topics.
Published work generally deals with women as visible participants in revolution, revolution and employment as vehicles for women's liberation, and Confucianism and the family as sources of women's oppression. While rural marriage rituals, such as bride price and dowry, have remained the same in form, their function has changed. This reflects the decline of the extended family and the growth in women's agency in the marriage transaction. In recent scholarship on China, the concept of gender has yielded a bounty of new knowledge in English- and Chinese-language writings.
Mann (2009) explores how Chinese biographers have depicted women over two millennia (221 BCE to 1911), especially during the Han dynasty. Zhang Xuecheng, Sima Qian, and Zhang Huiyan and other writers often study women of the governing class, and their representation in domestic scenes of death in the narratives and in the role of martyrs.
The historiography of women in the history of Tibet confronts the suppression of women's histories in the social narratives of an exiled community. McGranahan (2010) examines the role of women in the 20th century, especially during the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet. She studies women in the Tibetan resistance army, menstrual blood as a contaminating agent, and the subordination of women in a Buddhist society. 1998
The serious studies of women written by amateur women scholars were ignored by the male-dominated history profession until the 1960s, when the first breakthroughs came. Most scholars attribute Gerda Lerner to having offered in 1963 the first regular college course in women's history. The field of women's history exploded dramatically after 1970, along with the growth of the new social history and the acceptance of women into graduate programs in history departments. An important development is to integrate women into the history of race and slavery. A pioneer effort was Deborah Gray White's 'Ar'n't I a Woman? Female Slaves in the Plantation South (1985), which helped to open up analysis of race, slavery, abolitionism and feminism, as well as resistance, power, and activism, and themes of violence, sexualities, and the body. A major trend in recent years has been to emphasize a global perspective.
Women's rights refers to the social and human rights of women. In the United States, the abolition movements sparked an increased wave of attention on the status of women, but the history of feminism reaches far back before the 18th century. (See protofeminism.) The advent of the reformist age during the 19th century meant that those invisible minorities or marginalized majorities were to find a catalyst and a microcosm in such new tendencies of reform. The earliest works on the so-called "woman question" criticized the restrictive role of women, without necessarily claiming that women were disadvantaged or that men were to blame. In Britain, the Feminism movement began in the 19th century and continues in the present day. Simone de Beauvoir wrote a detailed analysis of women's oppression in her 1949 treatise The Second Sex. It became a foundational tract of contemporary feminism. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, feminist movements, such as the one in the United States substantially changed the condition of women in the Western world. The trigger for the revolution was the development of the birth control pill in 1960, which gave women access to easy and reliable contraception.
The 1870 US Census was the first to count "Females engaged in each and every occupation" and provides an intriguing snapshot of women's history. It reveals that, contrary to popular belief, not all American women of the Victorian period were either idle in their middle-class homes or working in sweatshops. Women were 15% of the total work force (1.8 million out of 12.5). They made up one-third of factory "operatives," to be sure, but teaching and the more gentle occupations of dressmaking, millinery, and tailoring played a larger role. Two-thirds of teachers were women. And they could be found in such unexpected places as iron and steel works (495), mines (46), sawmills (35), oil wells and refineries (40), gas works (4), and charcoal kilns (5), and held such surprising jobs as ship rigger (16), teamster (196), turpentine laborer (185), brass founder/worker (102), shingle and lathe maker (84), stock-herder (45), gun and locksmith (33), hunter and trapper (2). There were five lawyers, 24 dentists, and 2,000 doctors.
In the history of sex, the social construction of sexual behavior - its taboos, regulation and social and political impact - has had a profound effect on women in the world since prehistoric times. The history of abortion dates back to ancient times and has impacted men and women in a variety of ways in different times and places. Historically, it is unclear how often the ethics of abortion (induced abortion) was discussed. In the later half of the 20th century some nations began to legalize abortion. This controversial subject has sparked heated debate and in some cases even violence.
Women have been exposed to various tortuous sexual conditions and have been discriminated against in various fashions in history. An example are the comfort women, women who were forced to work as prostitutes in military brothels in Japanese-occupied countries during World War II.
The social aspects of clothing have revolved around traditions regarding certain items of clothing intrinsically suited different gender roles. In particular, the wearing of skirts and trousers has given rise to common phrases expressing implied restrictions in use and disapproval of offending behaviour. For example, ancient Greeks often considered the wearing of trousers by Persian men as a sign of an effeminate attitude. Women's clothing in Victorian fashion was used as a means of control and admiration. Reactions to the elaborate confections of French fashion led to various calls for reform on the grounds of both beauty (Artistic and Aesthetic dress) and health (dress reform; especially for undergarments and lingerie). Although trousers for women did not become fashionable until the later 20th century, women began wearing men's trousers (suitably altered) for outdoor work a hundred years earlier. In the 1960s, André Courrèges introduced long trousers for women as a fashion item, leading to the era of the pantsuit and designer jeans and the gradual eroding of the prohibitions against girls and women wearing trousers in schools, the workplace, and fine restaurants. Corsets also have long been used for fashion, and body modification, such as waistline reduction. There were, and are, many different styles and types of corsets, varying depending on the intended use, corset maker's style, and the fashions of the era.
The status of women in the Victoria Era is often seen as an illustration of the striking discrepancy between the nation's power and richness and what many, then and now, consider its appalling social conditions. Victorian morality was full of many contradictions. A plethora of social movements concerned with improving public morals co-existed with a class system that permitted harsh living conditions for many, such as women. There is an apparent contradiction between the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint and the prevalence of social phenomena that included prostitution. In the Victorian era, the bathing machine was developed. It was a device that flourished in the 19th century to allow people to wade in the ocean at beaches without violating Victorian notions of modesty. The bathing machine was part of sea-bathing etiquette that was more rigorously enforced upon women than men.
The Hindu, Jewish, Sikh, Islamic and Christian views about women vary considerably today and have varied even more throughout the last two millennia, evolving along with or counter to the societies in which people have lived. For much of history, the role of women in the life of the church both local and universal has been downplayed, overlooked, or simply denied. When some women have interreligious marriage, or marriage (either religious or civil) between partners professing different religions, they can do so without disobeying both of these religions.
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Warfare always engaged women as victims and objects of protection. During the twentieth century civilian women on the Homefront became increasingly important in supporting total warfare, as housewives, munitions workers, replacements for men in service, nurses, and combat soldiers.
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Many agree that there is too much HIStory and not enough HERstory.
The following is a list of issues in Wikipedia either about women's history, or containing relevant information, often in a "History" section.
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