Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ladies and gentlemen

Despite entering grad school convinced that gender studies was not for me, I keep finding myself dealing with questions in which gender does matter. I'm now taking a class on the family in 19th century France, which is shedding some light on not only issues I'll need to address in terms of research (more on that if the project I hope to do for this class gets the prof's OK), but also, yes, the current blogger debates. Rather than looking at our times as uniquely confused in terms of marriage and gender roles, it's interesting to see how conservative and progressive thinkers were arguing about what marriage should mean over a hundred years ago, in not entirely different terms. So far in this class, the issue of same-sex, state-sanctioned marriage has not come up (as I doubt it much did in the 19th century), but the many possibilities of which man and woman, how old, who met how, who relate to each other with what degree of equality, and so on, seemed to keep people busy. When Cheryl writes that "Women and men no longer have a reliable script for dating and marriage, that X will lead to Y which will lead to Z, etc." she is correct about the present but oversimplifies the past. It is not as though, in the implied past (which, again, I can never pin down--is it the 1950s? the 1800s? is this all really about the Pill? I'm guessing that last one is it...) couples effortlessly formed in ways that pleased both the individuals and their families. Unfortunately I have yet to read enough on this to know exactly how relationships were once complicated, well before there were blogs to discuss them, so I'll have to stop here. Basically, there should be some way of commenting about our times that acknowledges that we are not the first to experience the types of questions we face, while isolating that which truly has changed, and if it has changed, when.

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