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Gender Emergence in England’s History Essay

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Gender Emergence in England’s History

"Historicizing Patriarchy: The Emergence of Gender Difference in England, 1660-1760" by Michael McKeon is a powerful and original hypothesis as to "how and why the modern system of gender difference was established during the English Restoration and eighteenth century" (295). McKeon, a professor of English literature at Rutgers University is also the author of several essays, including "Politics and Poetry in Restoration England" and "Origins of the English Novel."

McKeon uses the term 'patriarchalism' because it attaches itself to a "traditional regime" which will in later centuries be replaced by the "modern conception of gender" (296). This term is mainly identified with as traditional because it is not normally questioned nor objected to; people interpret it as the natural order of things. McKeon's patriarchal system is founded on the belief that there was a "hierarchical notion of authority" which existed not only in Britain's government, but in the family as well. The oldest male figure of the household was most often looked upon as the leader; he simultaneously played the roles of father, husband, and ruler of the house. His word was absolute law for the family.

As with most issues, there are two sides. Parliamentarian Henry Parker and feminist Mary Astell disagreed on many issues, including whether the family and state were both founded on the concept of absolute power. However, they both agree on the "continued plausibility of the analogy between family and state" (297). So, although many critics do not feel comfortable with absolute power being the ruling force of family and state, they do agree that there is a direct correlation between them. Debates continued until arou...


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...es embraced it sooner than others. The ideology and rationale are there, yet this change has many exceptions and abstractions which will not allow historians to fully confirm their thesis. There are many overlapping levels of experience, class, and gender that encompass a broad sexual, political, economic, cultural, and intellectual range. A good metaphor that McKeon uses throughout the essay to compare gender to a web from which other lifestyles stem. McKeon cleverly sums up his argument by stating that "it is therefore a determinant regime in that it establishes the outer limits of our experience, and it is under the aegis of difference that we formulate our efforts to go beyond it" (316).

Works Cited

McKeon, Michael. "Historicizing Patriarchy: The Emergence of Gender Difference in England, 1660-1760." Eighteenth-Century Studies vol. 28, no. 3, 1995: 295-322.


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