|History Matters: Patriarchy and the Challenge of Feminism (2008 Conference Panel)|
|Katherine L. French|
|Ruth Mazo Karras|
Continuity and diversity in theorizations of patriarchy
One of the key themes in History Matters concerns the dynamics of change and continuity in historical writing and teaching. Change is sexy, it sells books, and underpins well-regarded dissertations and essays. Transformation is where the action is, where one can construct a compelling argument and demonstrate conceptual brilliance. In continuity, nothing much happens. Yet the story Bennett herself is famous for telling: that of women brewsters between the thirteenth and the sixteenth centuries and their continued relegation to work that was marginal, low-status and badly paid, shows that “continuity” was hard work by all concerned; a lot of changes were accomplished in order for things, in some respects, to remain “the same”. In my own account of families, states and employment relations in nineteenth century Anglo-American jurisdictions, I similarly stressed that what was at stake was not so much the survival of “relics” of feudalism or patriarchalism, but the forging of novel relations of mastery and subordination. With the advantage of hindsight, these might look like patriarchal continuities. At the time, they represented the results of innovation in the face of unexpected, ingenious, and at first only dimly understood challenges, which in turn had far-reaching, and in large measure unanticipated, social consequences.2 Continuity in times of change, in other words, tends to be the outcome of widespread and diffuse struggle, inventiveness, contingency, creativity, and sheer hard work.