- Gender and Citizenship: Difference and Power in the Modern State
The triangular relationship between “gender,” “citizenship,” and “power” as categories for historical analysis has seen a great deal of interest in the past decade.1 Historians interested in feminism and political history in the modern state have shifted the terms of discussion from a focus on suffrage to increasingly nuanced interrogations of what were the parameters of political activism, and what political culture meant when viewed from a gendered perspective, thus understanding politics to encompass a broad array of actions and attitudes that might not have had women’s voting rights at their heart. This opening up of the spectrum of political action and culture was facilitated by focusing on what citizenship has meant in different places under different ideological and legal regimes. Citizenship in this new historiography is generally meant to include not only specific legal obligations and rights of individuals who are citizens of a state. Rather, citizenship encompasses extra-legal parameters defined by policy, [End Page 160] custom, and overall human behavior—both as sanctioned overtly by state institutions and also as accepted informally in society. Thus, one can speak of citizenship to include matters of access to education, economic power, being able to speak publicly, and representing the nation in the fine arts or music. This capacious definition of citizenship has enabled historians to walk over ground others had already covered and point out new links between what seemed to be “women’s” issues and the larger polity / society. Since “citizenship” reflects always both on the individual or group under question and also on the larger collective body of all real or potential citizens, interrogating how women have been affected by specific political and cultural practices becomes a project also about that larger collective body—usually the nation, be it ethnic / racial, religious, or civic.
The books discussed here all fall to some extent within this new wave of historical scholarship. As a group they exemplify both what is strongest and most interesting about this approach, as well as some of the pitfalls of pursuing questions about gender, citizenship, and power from either too broad or too narrow an angle. Overall, they direct toward important ways the historiography on gender in the modern period needs to be essentially integrated into the larger narratives of politics in the modern world.
Joan Scott’s breathtaking Parite! is an elegantly crafted narrative and analysis of the eponymous movement in France over the past two decades, which has reshaped not just women’s representation in politics, but also, as Scott eloquently demonstrates, the very meaning of democracy in France. The book is a tour de force in the history of recent politics, as well as political thought in France since 1789. With ease and sophistication Scott connects two centuries of political and philosophical (in France, they clearly seem to be closely intertwined) ideas about republicanism, Frenchness, and representativeness, to explain the shifts in the mainstream discourse about who can stand in for the ideals of the republic, and la France. Central to her discussion is the notion that difference is a category that has changed in definition. Over the past two decades, the notion that women represent difference in a nonnormative sense—meaning that women...