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Journal of Women's History 13.4 (2002) 180-190
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Women's Citizenship in the Twentieth-Century World:
States, Gender, and Historiographical Strategies in Comparative Perspective
Elizabeth Thompson. Colonial Citizens: Republican Rights, Paternal Privilege, and Gender in French Syria and Lebanon. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. xvii + 402 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-231-10660-2 (cl); 0-213-10661-0 (pb).
Landon R. Y. Storrs. Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era. Chapel Hill & London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2000. xiv + 392 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-8078-2527-1 (cl); 0-8078-4838-7 (pb).
Nancy Christie. Engendering the State: Family, Work, and Welfare in Canada. Toronto: The University of Toronto Press, 2000. xiv + 459 pp. ISBN 0-8020-4768-8 (cl); 0-8020-8231-8 (pb).
Rolf Torstendahl, ed. State Policy and Gender System in the Two German States and Sweden, 1945-1989. Opuscula Historica Upsaliensia 22. Uppsala: Department of History, 1999. 239 pp. ISBN 91-5-6-1347-2 (pb).
In the debates now underway over the relationship between women's history and gender history, and over the most appropriate strategies for highlighting the history of women with respect to the politics of gender, one thing seems certain--that women's history has progressed well beyond the boundaries of a social history that left all "politics" to the side. This cluster of new scholarly works addresses issues of women, gender, citizenship, and the state in a variety of twentieth-century sociocultural and political settings, and each brings a different and much-appreciated dish to the potluck. The resulting ensemble displays multiple approaches to writing a comprehensive, gender-focused political history where women are (and sometimes are not) at the center of the story. The truth is that a historian who intends to embark on the path of gender analysis cannot proceed or succeed without mastering women's history and paying attention also to the history of men as men and to the sexual politics of ideas. There is no "either/or" here; it is both at once--and then some. [End Page 180]
Elizabeth Thompson's beautifully written and brilliantly argued study of efforts in Syria and Lebanon to acquire nation-state status places gender issues squarely at the center of Middle Eastern political history. It seems unlikely that many readers of this review will know much about how Syria and Lebanon, once territorial dependencies of the Ottoman Empire, slowly achieved independence under the French mandate established by the League of Nations between the end of World War I and the end of World War II. Thompson sets the stage for understanding this "guided" independence development (which is a bit different than decolonization) and highlighting the "gender pact" that lay at its center by showing how war-related economic woes, including the mass starvation of men, women, and children, triggered what she calls a "crisis of paternity" among the men of this region, who believed both that they needed to redeem themselves and reclaim their paternal authority following the end of hostilities in 1918. Notions of fatherhood and brotherhood became extremely important in men's efforts to attain national independence, and both concepts implied the extrusion of women from their endeavor.
Thompson offers an eye-opening perspective on the campaigns for women's rights and citizenship in the Syrian and Lebanese mandates that were mounted in the face of stout masculinist opposition. Some of the general developments she outlines will seem very familiar to historians of Europe, North America, Latin America, and Asia, as well as nearby Egypt: notably, the arguments of patriotic motherhood used to justify the campaign for the female vote, and the tensions that developed out of initial alliances between Syrian and Lebanese nationalists and feminists. Few readers, however, will be as familiar with the specifics. Of particular importance was the crisis that developed around Nazira Zayn al-Din's controversial study, Unveiling and Veiling [Al-sufur wa...