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THE STATE OF GENDER IN IRISH STUDIES: A REVIEW ESSAY LAURA E. LYONS Anthony Bradley & Maryann Gialanella Valiulis, eds., Gender and Sexuality in Modern Ireland. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1997. Margaret Kelleher, The Feminization of Famine: Expressions of the Inexpressible ? Cork and Durham: Cork UP/Duke UP, 1997. Margaret Kelleher & James H. Murphy, eds., Gender Perspectives in 19th Century Ireland. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1997. Dáire Keogh & Nicholas Furlong, eds., The Women of 1798. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1998. Maryann Gialanella Valiulis & Mary O’Dowd, eds., Women & Irish History : Essays in Honour of Margaret MacCurtain. Dublin: Wolfhound Press, 1997. Éibhear Walshe, ed. Sex, Nation, and Dissent in Irish Writing. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997. a colleague recently commented that doing “postcolonialism” was seeming less like the defensive project that the vitriol regularly directed against it in Irish Studies circles once made it. But if postcolonial approaches have gained prominence in the recent academic symposia and conferences dedicated to pivotal historical events such as the Irish Famine or the 1798 Rebellion , the same cannot be said of gender and sexuality. Indeed, this colleague noted that male scholars continue to dominate such events, and that little attention is given to thinking about such historical moments in terms of gender and sexual identity. These critical categories of experience and analysis too often remain safely ensconced in “special” sessions, where they need not interfere with academic business as usual. When questions insisting that the gender dynamics of a particular cultural or historical moment be addressed do arise, they often generate productive intellectual tenTHE STATE OF GENDER IN IRISH STUDIES: A REVIEW ESSAY 236 sions and conflicts in plenary sessions and keynotes, where politeness, predictability , and piety can easily stifle a question and answer period. Even at conferences like the one on Gender and Colonialism in 1992 at University College, Galway, at a final discussion session the audience appeared divided between those who were frustrated by the lack of gender analysis and those who felt that equally important aspects of colonialism—political economy, for example—were being neglected in favor of an emphasis on women and gender. These observations reveal an ongoing problem about the uneasy placement of issues of gender and sexuality in Irish Studies. To disregard gender and sexuality, as so often happens, is to ignore their constitutive role in the formation of Irish identity and to overlook the ways that they inform cultural , historical, and political debate. But focusing too exclusively on gender and sexual identity in isolation from the historical processes of colonialism , nationalism, and state-formation leads to equally problematic forms of determinism. In either case, gender and sexuality are seen as something apart—either as what feminists and queers do, or what other critics have the privilege of ignoring. Why do gender and sexuality continue to have such disturbing potential in Irish Studies? After all, Ireland has a long-standing and impressive tradition of feminist thought, not to mention a history punctuated by the crucial political and aesthetic accomplishments and interventions of women. The last decade has witnessed the rise in women’s studies programs in Ireland and an increasing emphasis on gender in Irish Studies curricula . Women in Irish Studies can be grateful to colleagues like Ailbhe Smyth at University College, Dublin, for her continued activism and attention to the place of women and women’s studies within the academy. Presses such as Pluto in London and Attic in Dublin (to name but two) have contributed to the work in such programs by publishing (or republishing) books that uncover Irish women’s roles in history—either through firstperson accounts, or through books and pamphlets on Irish social and political problems in which the analysis is explicitly feminist. Within literary studies, an increasing number of important projects use gender as a lens through which to re-examine those Irish writers whose works defined the terms of not just national but gender and sexual identities as well. Here Marjorie Howes’ and Elizabeth Butler Cullingford’s work on W.B. Yeats comes immediately to mind. And, of course, we are (still!) all anxiously awaiting the fourth volume of the Field Day Anthology of Irish Literature, dedicated exclusively to writing by...


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