Joan W. Scott

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 1981


Those of you who think keynote speakers are chosen for their knowledge, wisdom, or fame should be disabused of those beliefs, at least in my case. I was asked to give this talk because I ventured an opinion about the subject that should be addressed in this year's keynote address during a meeting of the program committee over a year ago. At that time the American Historical Association's Committee on Women Historians (CWH) was preparing its update of the 1971 Rose Report on the Status of Women in the Historical Profession and the figures gave little reason for optimism either about what we had gained in the decade of the 1970s or about what lay ahead in the contracting economy of the 1980s. In addition, I was then chairing the Committee on the Status of Women at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and I was painfully aware of the stubborn resistance of departments and deans to the recognition, promotion, and tenuring of women faculty members. Over a nd over again I watched the power of shared male biases perpetuate inequality even as federal affirmative action plans cleaned up procedures and forced at least formal accountability to "good faith" efforts. So, when the program committee turned to the question of the keynote , I urged that we think in terms of subject matter, not personalities, and I said (probably in an impassioned voice) that we needed someone to address the question of political action by women such as us in the face of economic retrenchment and cultural backlash. My outburst produced thoughtful silence , then approbation, then the assignment. I agreed to consider doing it and eventually decided I could.



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