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Gender and Europe

A gendered history of Europe, in which gender relations are a constituent element of the definition of European political, economic, and cultural space.

Editorial managers: Julie Le Gac and Yannick Ripa.

An Italian woman inspects the kilts of Pipe Major William MacConnachie and Pipe Major William Boyd in the Colosseum of Rome, 6 June 1944. Source: Imperial War Museums
Herman Richir, Réunion du conseil d’administration de la Banque nationale (huile sur toile, 1918, Musée de la Banque nationale de Belgique).Herman Richir, Meeting of the board of directors of the National Bank (oil on canvas, 1918, Museum of the National Bank of Belgium)
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During the nineteenthcentury, no-one questioned the link between power and masculinity, between men and domination of the public sphere. This power took on many forms, ranging from economic and political to military and even religious power. Although military prestige declined with the two world wars and the defeats of decolonization, men still held the reins over politics and the increasingly globalized economy. Nearly a century after the right to vote, and despite mass access to higher education, women still hit against the glass ceiling, which denies them access to responsibility. A small fringe of masculine leaders still concentrates most of the power in the twenty-first century.

The division between the private feminine sphere and the public masculine sphere imposed itself during the nineteenth century. The men possessing the most cultural and financial capital controlled the centres of economic, political, military, and even religious power. Despite the growing role of women in society, the erosion of this age-old domination was slow to come during the twentieth century.

This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

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This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

This article is currently being written, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

Gravure de Paul Gavarni (1804-1866) « Les époux se doivent mutuellement fidélité, secours, assistance », Œuvres choisies, 1857.
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This article is currently being translated, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

Régiment de femmes de Pétrograd au repos, buvant le thé et mangeant, devant leurs tentes. Armée russe, Première Guerre mondiale.
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This article is currently being translated, for more articles on the same subject, please check the "To go further" section.

Science courses at the Kalvskindet school (Norway), circa 1900, Erik Olsen
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The movement towards compulsory and prolonged schooling since 1800 had a greater impact on girls than boys in European countries because girls’ education significantly lagged behind that of boys in 1800. Early 19th-century schools were strictly divided by both sex and class: elementary education was directed toward the poor, whereas secondary education was mainly for wealthy boys. By mid-century national networks of schools increasingly allowed girls to pursue studies, particularly within vocationally-oriented and teacher-training programs. Between 1850 and the 1920s, many countries mandated compulsory elementary education for both sexes and single-sex secondary schools for girls developed. Feminist movements also promoted girls’ schooling, including in the colonies. Women, and particularly nuns, were very present in the “civilising mission” that encouraged the creation of schools in the Empire and in Europe. From the inter-war period on, the most dramatic changes in educational systems have been the spread of comprehensive secondary education and the disappearance of single-sex schooling. After 1945 this meant that the numbers of students attending secondary schools soared.

Adolphe Willette, Madeleine, Monologue and 9 drawing, Paris, D'Alignan, 1920 (one of 250 facsimile copies of a Willette notebook, dated July 1911).
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From 1800 prostitution (assumed only to be female) was regulated in Europe, but it was tolerated as it was deemed necessary for male sexuality. The system of regulationism, accused in the 1860s of iniquity by the abolitionist movement, was then called into question by the development of a White Slave Trade involving innocent victims. This “scourge” led states to search for a European or even international solution. Addressed by international organisations (the League of Nations and United Nations) the issue became topical again in the second half of the twentieth century owing to the influx of prostitutes from Eastern Europe. The European Union attempted to respond to the challenge posed by what was now described as human trafficking, but respected the diversity of national policies towards prostitutes and the potential normalisation of prostitutes as sex workers.

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