E.P. Thompson: Feminism, Gender, Women and History

Winslow, Barbara
Date Written:  2013-11-01
Publisher:  Against the Current
Year Published:  2013
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX20283

Winslow reflects upon her experiences working with E.P. Thompson at the University of Warwick in 1969, especially in relation to his support for the women's liberation movement.



In 1988 a prominent U.S. historian, Joan Wallach Scott, published a series of essays, Gender and the Politics of History, including a chapter "Women in the Making of the English Working Class." She critiqued Thompson’s gender blindness, meaning the universalizing of the working class as male, i.e. identifying men who work at the point of production with the concept of a working class. Other historians have also critiqued Thompson's failure to comprehend slavery, race and empire in his Making. Scott's essay, understandably, was a point of debate by feminist historians.

Sheila Rowbotham, a close friend of the Thompsons and one of the original pioneers of the new women's history, believed that Scott was both unfair and ahistorical. In an interview she explained that of course Thompson did not have a gender perspective in 1963 -- remember that the women’s movement did not have a gender perspective when we began.
Rowbotham's point is telling. The first phase of the post-1965 women’s history was characterized by writing women into history. More sophisticated analyses including gender, sexuality and intersectionality, came later.

Because Thompson saw class as being formed by community and not just the work place, he provided many of us feminist historians a methodology to write about women, gender, class, community and activism.

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