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Women’s Work, Men’s Property: The Origins of Gender and Class

Exploring the sociohistorical roots of gender inequality.

“To some a book on the origins of sexual inequality is absurd. Male dominance seems to them a universal, if not inevitable, phenomenon that has been with us since the dawn of our species. The essays in this volume offer differing perspectives on the development of sex-role differentiation and sexual inequality, but share a belief that these phenomena did have social origins, origins that must be sought in sociohistorical events and processes.”

In this way Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson introduce a book which fills a yawning gap in Marxist and feminist theory of recent years.

Women’s Work, Men’s Property brings together specialist historical and anthropological skills of a group of American and French feminists to examine the origins of the sexual division of labor, the nature of pre-state kinship societies, the position of women in slave-based societies, and the specific forms taken by the oppression of women in archaic Greece.

Men’s Work, Women’s Property will be welcomed by teachers and students of women’s studies and anyone with an interest in the biological, psychological and historical roots of sexual inequality.

 

With contributions by Nicole Chevillard, Stephanie Coontz, Peta Henderson, Sébastien Leconte, Lila Leibowitz, and Monique Saliou

Blog

  • Reconceptualizing Family History

    "Frustrated by the fact that most texts on women treated 'the man's world' as the given and then simply asked where and how women fitted in," Stephanie Coontz writes, "I decided to undertake a survey of American gender roles: that was the starting point of the present book" — The Social Origins of Private Life: A History of American Families 1600–1900, published by Verso in 1988.


    Unidentified African American soldier in Union uniform with wife and two daughters, c. 1863-65. via Wikimedia Commons.

    As the focus of her research shifted from "woman's private sphere" to the family as a larger arena in which the public and private intersect, Coontz became more attentive to the diversity of household arrangements across time and space. "Stimulated by the burgeoning research into family history," she writes, "I began to look at the family as a culture's way of coordinating personal reproduction with social reproduction — as the socially sanctioned place where male and female reproductive activities condition and are conditioned by the other activities into which human beings enter as they perpetuate a particular kind of society, or try to construct a new one." 

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  • Reconceptualizing Family History (Part II)

    Continued from part I.


    Detail from Francis William Edmonds' The New Bonnet (1858).

    The Limits of Structural and Demographic Analysis

    Although it is important to compare demographic trends and household structures and seek their economic correlates, such procedures yield only limited information about the history of families. Olga Linares points out: “Qualitative changes in the meaning of interpersonal obligations may be as important in distinguishing among household types as more easily measured changes in size and form.” Indeed, as Barrington Moore Jr has commented, tabulating structural differences “necessarily involves ignoring all differences except the one being measured.” Changes in social relations and patterns are not “reducible to any quantitative differences; they are incommensurable. Yet it is precisely such differences that matter most to human beings.”47

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  • Feminism for the 99% and the Compulsion to Repeat: Reflections on Gender, Labor, and Language


    Gender Strike, San Francisco, March 8 2017. via It's Going Down

    Feminist politics and movement making has a history of compulsively
    repeating, reinforcing, and reconstructing systematic forms of exclusion, as well as shallow calls for inclusion. Women of color feminisms, transnational feminism, transfeminism, and feminist disability studies have all, in different ways and through various methodologies, critiqued and reframed the ways in which the category "woman" is invoked and politically deployed in relation to race, class, sexuality, gender identity, dis/ability, mental health, capital, neo-colonial rule, and the nation-state form.1 These critiques contest the dominant interpretations of the category “woman” within feminist thought and political organization in order to conceive a feminist politics that is truly liberatory. The March 8 International Women's Strike was not only a strike against women's visible and invisible labor, but it was also an international call for the reinvigoration of a radical feminism for the 99% (referred to by some, and in the rest of this piece, as F99).

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Other books Edited by Stephanie Coontz and Peta Henderson