Rethinking Public and Private in Women's History
For over two centuries the notion that societies have been sharply divided into women's (private) and men's (public) spheres has been used both to describe and to prescribe social life. More recently, it has been applied and critiqued by feminist scholars as an explanation for women's oppression. Spanning a rich array of historical contexts—from medieval nunneries to Ottoman harems to Paris communes to electronics firms in today's Silicon Valley—the twenty essays collected here offer a pathbreaking reassessment of the significance of the concept of separate spheres.
After a theoretical introduction by the editors, certain essays reexamine historians' definitions of public and private realms and show how the imposition of these categories often obscures the realities of power structures and the alterable nature of gender roles. Other chapters consider how the concept of separate domains has been used to control women's actions. Additional essays explore the limits of public/private distinctions, focusing on women's working lives, the role of the state in the family, and the ways in which women including Native North Americans, African-Americans in the birth control movement, and participants in the lesbian bar culture have themselves reshaped the model of separate spheres.
Making available the best papers on the public/private theme delivered at the 1987 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Gendered Domains will be welcomed by anyone interested in women's studies, including historians, political scientists, feminist theorists, anthropologists, sociologists, and philosophers.