I am currently in the throes of research for my dissertation on masculinity in the eighteenth-century. In doing my research, I have become increasingly unsympathetic to radical feminist writers on the subject of gender. This is certainly a hot potato, I realise and let me set my stall out first before you judge me to be a corset-wearing, subordinated housewife.
I support equal rights for women – this is important to remember. However, by studying only the position of women in society in relation to and because of their subjugation by men, we miss the fact that men were part of history too. Not your Nelson’s, George’s and Pitt’s (older and younger) but the men who just existed day-to-day. So many feminist historians seem to write only about women but at the cost of missing the other half of the picture. I am increasingly anxious that the histories of the John Bull’s are being overlooked because of the focus on misogyny. This is not what the study of history should be about. It should be the reconstruction of the past of everyone and the sooner we move away from the centrality of gender, the better a picture of the past we can restore.
Natalie Davis argued that the study of masculinity should not be just for being the opposite of feminism but that both sexes should be understood together. “[It] seems to me that we should be interested in the history of both women and men, that we should not be working only on the subjected sex any more than an historian of class can focus entirely on peasants. Our goal is to understand the significance of the sexes, of gender groups in the historical past.