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Classics and Gender Studies in 21st Century North America

Barbara Gold

Since the 1970s North American study of gender in classical antiquity has undergone dramatic changes. Originally focused on representations of ancient Greco-Roman women, it has expanded to include masculinity and sexual identities. Innovative theoretical approaches--from humanities disciplines (narratology, new historicism) and the social sciences (cultural anthropology, linguistics)--have also proven influential, as have the new fields of Queer and Reception studies.

A 1972 issue of the journal Arethusa devoted to women in antiquity, and Pomeroy's 1975 Goddesses, Whores, Wives and Slaves, launched and shaped the subsequent research agendas of  North American feminist classicists. Such work sought to illuminate literary evidence about ancient women's images and realities, while exploring the historical contexts that produced these texts. Yet the 1993 Rabinowitz and Richlin essay collection Feminist Theory and the Classics attests that from the 1980s onwards North American scholarship on ancient gender engaged actively with questions raised by European, largely French, theory, explicitly feminist work (de Beauvoir, Irigaray, Kristeva) as well as Lacan, Foucault, and various post-structuralists.  Such studies as Hallett and Skinner, Roman Sexualities (1997) and Skinner's Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture (2005) document that since the 1990s gender research in classics has attempted to look more closely at ancient constructions of sexuality, employing European and other theoretical perspectives. Such research also tries to compensate for the shortchanging of Latin literary and Roman historical evidence by earlier, Hellenocentric studies. 

As a 2014 collection on Sex in Antiquity edited by two British classicists (Llewellyn-Jones and Robson) and two Americans (Masterson and Rabinowitz) illustrates, North American and European scholars on gender in antiquity now work on the same projects, sharing theory and practice. They treat a wider array of topics (especially medicine), texts, genres, types of evidence and historical periodsl they use theory as a hermeneutic for examining gender and sexual issues tather than as the main focus of study. Many presentations at the 2013 APA meeting—among them panels on "Transgressive Spaces" and "Sexual Labor in the Ancient World"—testify to the growing influence of gender studies and the professional support it receives.

Session/Panel Title

EuGeStA [European Gender Studies in Antiquity] Workshop

Session/Paper Number

25.2

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