Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Sheila Johansson Inadequacy

For a general philosophical outlook, feminist historians have a number of possible options:

(1) History has been largely violent and bad, men are to blame for this, and women have been subjugated victims.

(2) History has been a mix of good and bad, men are responsible for the good and the bad, and women have been subjugated victims.

(3) History has been largely violent and bad, but women have been a civilizing force.

(4) History has been a mix of good and bad, men are responsible for the bad, and women are responsible for the good.

And herein lies the fundamental difficulty for every strain of academic feminism: whilst rigorous scholarship and scientific research requires the open-minded pursual of all possibilities, the persecution complex which underlies feminist thought, automatically introduces a gender-based bias which precludes the possibility of such neutral-minded rigour.

Sheila Johansson, for one, seems to prefer the third option above, writing in her 1976 paper, 'Herstory' as History: A new field or another fad?:

"Even the most chauvinistic male historian might admit that history, if it has been dominated by Man, has also been filled with more heat than light, more injustice, selfishness and violence than enlightened detachment, and certainly more conservatism than progressive creativity. Furthermore...Man, when contemplating Woman, was for the most part a pretty conventional fellow, anything but heroic and objective, quite derivative and often stale in his handling of the woman question.

"The West's current cultural malaise and ecological crisis have led some to reassess the relative merits of 'masculinity' and 'femininity' (as presently defined). Many forces are combining to make a climate more favourable to the appreciation of women and things feminine."

In retrospect, however, this paper has something of an ironic air, given the downward trajectory of Sheila Johansson's own academic career in relation to that of her husband, the economist Paul A. David. After a spell in the UK, she has now moved back to the United States since David became Emeritus Professor of History in the Department of Economics at Stanford University.

But as Sheila wrote back in the Seventies, "in spite of all the discrimination that has hampered women in history, females have a certain amount of built-in power over males, as mothers, wives, lovers and sisters."

No comments: