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Ancient Gender Studies: The Situation in France

Jacqueline Fabre-Serris

Academic research on women in France developed in connection with the militant feminism of the 1970s, and the social and political advances which resulted. In 1970 H. Cixous created a center of women's studies at Vincennes (Paris 8), where the founder of EuGeStA received her MA in French literature. The current director also oversees the GIS Institut de Genre, a major interdisciplinary project launched by the CNRS (Centre National de la recherche scientifique) in 2011. Among researchers in classical antiquity, Greek historians have been in the front line: contributors to the first volume of Histoire des Femmes en Occident, a French and Italian enterprise launched at the end of the 1980s, edited by P. Schmitt Pantel, were mostly Greek historians applying anthropological perspectives, either members of the Centre Gernet or sympathetic to its theoretical orientation. In Les experiences de Tiresias (1977-1985) and Les meres en deuil (1991), N. Loraux, historian and anthropologist, also opted to work on literarr, philosophical and medical texts, as did her student G. Sissa in Le corps virginal (1987).

Later scholars have not adopted Loraux's distinctive approach to the categories of masculine and feminine. Critical of Foucault's conceptualization of sexuality and of theories based on binary opposition as well as theories of "inversion", she focused instead on exchange and inclusion, making use of psychoanalytical insights. Recent studies have again focused on history, particularly Greek: both history in the traditional sense, and the history of religion. Here, the research group Pheacie, run by Schmitt Pantel, and the group based at the Centre Gernet (e.g. S. Georgoudi and F. Lissarague), have been merged with the Glotz Centre under the umbrella of the UMR Anhima. Directing the gender studies research program of Anhima is V. Sebilotte, who studies questions of authority.

Another current strand is the history of sexuality, represented in the work of the Effigies Antiquity group, with S. Boehringer, a specialist in female homoeroticism. These trajectories relate to the research of C. Calame on semiotics and pragmatics, and F. Dupont, an anthropologically oriented Roman specialist strongly opposed to the concept of 'literature', arguing that the category did not exist in antiquity. The creation of the GIS Institut du Genre in 2011 bears witness to the recent willingness of the CNRS to record and promote research in Gender Studies. Courses about gender are encouraged in universities, to the Master's level. In secondary schools, a unit on gender theory was introduced in 2011 in the course handbooks of the SVT (Sciences de la Vie et de la Terre) for students in the year preceding the baccalaureate, to the indignation of the Catholic right.

Linking ancient gender studies in France with research in the partner universities of EuGeStA (where specialists in literature and medicine predominate) necessitates forging new practices that allow more opportunity to problematize relationships between the concepts of masculine and feminine. They require according greater emphasis to literary texts (a category to which historical texts themselves belong), studying them from a gendered perspective by making use of the different methods developed in this field: conventions of genre, narrative, contexts of utterance, intertextuality, and historical and ideological contexts. These methods show, in an illuminating way, that literary texts are also sites of questioning and debate. Gender studies will, moreover, benefit from assigning Rome a more important place, because Europe has inherited its culture from Romans as well as Greeks.

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EuGeStA [European Gender Studies in Antiquity] Workshop

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