Feminism, the history of invisibility and the historical imagination

I have been lately thinking a lot about my academic engagement with feminism. I’m a feminist, I’m proud to say it aloud everywhere I go and I do my best to act in a feminist way. However, I don’t use feminist theory or gender studies in my research, even if there are some obvious connections like the fact that all the scientists and photographers I study are men (and identify themselves are such). This upsets me and kind of disappoints me too. What kind of history am I doing, and with which purpose? Even more, what is the point of doing history of emotions like this?

I guess that I don’t engage more with feminism in my project because I don’t want to be obvious. I don’t want to repeat the story¬†of male scientists dominating hysterical women by means of the diagnosis of hysteria and by means of the photographs that turned these women into sexual objects for the male gaze. I don’t deny this, but I’m sure there are other ways to integrating feminism in a more subtle but decisive manner. The problem is that we are not used to thinking in these terms. At the end, the women’s history is the history of the invisible and the mechanisms of invisibilization. And photography precisely provides an excellent tool to examine this. As important as what photography makes visible (and how it constructs its visibility) is what photography systematically leaves out of the frame: the invisible in fact. So, from now on, I will always ask myself what is left out of the photographic act, because in the highly masculinized contexts that I examine it will probably be women and women’s experiences. Reconstructing their voices and their presence will be hard, and it will mostly relay on historical imagination.

It is precisely this necessity of historical imagination what appeals me the most. Historical imagination is the opposite of the History made of the rational reconstruction of facts and logical arguments. Historical imagination precisely uses the language of women’s experiences that cannot be translated into the authoritative masculine uses of languages. It challenges not only what is said, but also the ways in which something is said. And that’s what feminism is about.

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