By Rachel Davis |
When I was eighteen years old, I held the ignorant and ill-informed belief that “feminist” was synonymous with “bra-burner” and “man-hater.” I’m still grateful for my first year seminar lecturer who patiently and kindly informed me of how wrong my opinions of feminism were. While I was beginning to warm to the ideas of feminism, I still had quite a lot to learn about it. By twenty, I learned there were different types of feminisms after having Karen Offen on a required reading list for my first gender history class. It was, at this point, that I identified myself as a relational feminist (this is still how I would describe myself!), meaning that I celebrate the biological differences of the sexes while advocating for societal and legal equality.
As I neared the end of my undergraduate degree, I assumed that my consideration of feminism in my study of history had come to an end. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Now, as a medieval gender historian, it is imperative that I reconcile my identities as a feminist and as a researcher of gender in medieval Scotland. *Cue series of existential crises* On the one hand, there are the big-name gender historians that assert (quite strongly) that in order to be an historian of women’s and gender history, you must also be a feminist historian. What exactly does that mean? It means that the patriarchal structure of pre-modern (I now take issue with this) and modern society systematically subordinated women. It is inherently political. It also assumes that the concept of patriarchy translates well onto the historic past and knowingly and willingly uses the term anachronistically. A year ago, perhaps, I would have happily used this approach because of my identity as a feminist. However, the past year has given me time to think and to consider whether or not I want my personal beliefs to be part of my historical approach. And the more I think, the more I reject the idea of feminist history, especially in the medieval period.
So, who am I? Besides the fact that writing this post has triggered yet another existential crisis, I reckon that I am a feminist but not a feminist historian. I want my academic writing to be devoid of my personal political beliefs and a feminist approach to women’s and gender history makes that impossible. While this has been a challenging year sorting out where I belong in gender history, it has also been incredibly important. It has dared me to consider my own identities and how those shade my historical interpretation. It has spurred me on to contemplate subjectivity and to articulate my position in the field of gender history. And I’m finally beginning to separate my academic self from my personal self, one existential crisis at a time.
(Image © Wikipedia)