(point of irony: Blogger's spell-check function does not recognize the possessive "women's".)
When I began to post about the fox and hedgehog thing, it was a post that had been brewing for a few months, but that was most proximately inspired by this post at Historiann's. I mentioned this before, but never explained why.
Historiann asks, among other things, whether anyone would notice if women's history stopped being written. My passive voice formulation is intentional here, because "if women's historians stopped writing women's history" is circular and confusing and possibly tautological. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Authorial intent aside (we're all postmodernists now - wheee!), my reading of this post suggested two implications: the importance to the profession of doing women's history, and the fact that those with a vested interest in women's history (particularly but not exclusively feminist historians) should keep on keepin' on because -- lip service and an occasional grad seminar book aside -- no one else is going to step up and do it. Likely the same can be said for queer history, though I know less about that field's dynamics.
Each of these implications is fairly clear, but when viewed through the lens of my recent protestations about personal choice on the whole fox/hedgehog thing, combined with the recent post by Tenured Radical on the gendered dimensions of setting boundaries in our jobs, I end up in a nasty double-bind: we all choose whether to be foxes or hedgehogs, but women's/gender/feminist(/queer/?) historians who want to be foxes may feel that there is a moral obligation to be a hedgehog. If we don't do this very important work, who will?
!!TWEEEET!! Time Out: Let's all pause for a moment and think about that last sentence: what a girl thing to say. "Yes, we all agree that it's important, and I understand that no one else wants to do it, and I have written about it in the past, after all, so sure, I'll do it, even though I'd like to be moving in different directions, just like the rest of you. Better I give up on that ambition that anyone else."
Now, I know that there are plenty of women's historians (and in other fields too, of course) out there who are joyful hedgehogs by choice; we owe them a great deal as both scholars and feminists. And I also know that women's history is a subfield big enough that you can be a fox within it. But I'm not talking about them -- I'm talking about the feminist fox who feels pressured to be a hedgehog, to continue working in a field that is politically and/or personally important to her, when she'd rather be off writing about municipal institutions or poison or siege techniques of the Hundred-Years' War.
So, about a year too late, here's my "Lesson for Girls (academic version)": Just because you can, doesn't mean you have to. You're not a bad feminist if you write about stuff other than women. You're not a bad feminist if you selfishly follow your own scholarly interests of the moment. You may actually be committing a real feminist action by refusing to let yourself be defined by others' expectations, especially when those expectations allow your more misogynist colleagues to safely ignore or dismiss you. You can support woman-focused studies by buying the books, and assigning them in your classes, not just as tokenism, but as a way of teaching what you were taught: that the study of women fucking transformed the profession. You may choose to be a hedgehog because you have a career's worth of questions about women or gender in your field -- hedgehog away, sister! But that needs to be your choice, and if you choose to be a fox, it's really okay that you let yourself walk off and play somewhere else for a while. The boys get to do it, after all.