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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

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.

Science courses at the Kalvskindet school (Norway), circa 1900, Erik Olsen

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.

Adolphe Willette, Madeleine, Monologue and 9 drawing, Paris, D'Alignan, 1920 (one of 250 facsimile copies of a Willette notebook, dated July 1911).