Professor of History at the School of History, Classics, and Archaeology, Birkbeck College, University of London
Fear has been ranked as one of the most destructive emotions of the modern period. It is also highly gendered. Most famously, philosopher Susan Brownmiller noted in her influential polemic Against Our Will (1975) that early man’s “discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistoric times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe.” This paper interrogates such rhetoric. Within historical time and geographic place, what uses have been made of fear as a disciplining force? While innumerable surveys have shown that female fear has constrained their lives, both levels of fear and responses to it differ significantly by race, class, generation, and political standpoint. The paper addresses the history of gendered fear as a way of reflecting upon the state of modernity.
Joanna Bourke’s work has ranged from the social and economic history of Ireland in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, to social histories of the British working classes between 1860 and 1960, to cultural histories of military conflict between the Boer War and the Vietnam War, and, finally, to the history of emotions. She is currently writing a history of rapists in 19th- and 20-century societies. Some of her other works include Husbandry to Housewifery: Women, Economic Change and Housework in Ireland, 1890-1914 (1993); Working-Class Cultures in Britain, 1890-1960: Gender, Class and Ethnicity (1994); Dismembering the Male: Men’s Bodies, Britain, and the Great War (1996); An Intimate History of Killing: Face-to-Face Killing in Twentieth Century Warfare (1999); The Second World War: A People’s History (2001); and Fear: A Cultural History (2006).