Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis

Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis

By Joan W. Scott

The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5. (1986)

Introduction: Gender. n. a grammatical term only. To talk of persons or creatures of the masculine or feminine gender, meaning of the male or female sex, is either a jocularity (permissible or not according to context) or a blunder. - Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage, Oxford, 1940

Those who would codify the meanings of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history. Neither Oxford dons nor the Academie Francaise have been entirely able to stem the tide, to capture meanings free of the play of human invention and imagination. Mary Wortley Montagu added bite to her witty denunciation “of the fair sex” (“my only consolation for being of that gender has been the assurance of never being married to any one among them”) by deliberately misusing the grammatical reference. Through the ages, people have made figurative allusions by employing grammatical terms to evoke traits of character or sexuality.

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