chapter  11
Joan Wallach Scott
Excerpts from ‘Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis’
Pages 14

Those who would codify the meanings of words fight a losing battle, for words, like the ideas and things they are meant to signify, have a history. Neither Oxford dons nor the Académie française has been entirely able to stem the tide, to

capture and fix meanings free of the play of human invention and imagination. Mary Wortley Montagu added bite to her witty denunciation ‘of the fair sex’ (‘my only consolation for being of that gender has been the assurance of never being

married to any one among them’) by deliberately misusing the grammatical reference.2 Through the ages, people have made figurative allusions by employing grammatical terms to evoke traits of character or sexuality. For example, the usage offered by the Dictionnaire de la langue française in 1876 was: ‘On ne sait de quel genre il est, s’il est male ou femelle, se dit d’un homme très-caché, dont on ne connait pas les sentiments.’3 And Gladstone made this distinction in 1878: ‘Athene has nothing of sex except the gender, nothing of the woman except the form.’4