Though a broad question, its answer is simple, studying gender makes history more inclusive. Gender studies allow historians to access gender-based perspectives within key areas of study, and its scholars have emerged from the most recent generations of historians. Historical records notoriously revolve around straight, white, cis-gendered men, raising a debate as to whether accurate gender history exists. If ‘gender minorities’ have been eclipsed over six-thousand years of written history, do we truly have the resources to depict the experiences of patriarchal subordinates?

Women’s arrival in positions of political and economic power coincided with the emergence of gender history as they entered the historical mainstream. Scholars began to analyse gender’s role in familial and political power dynamics, and its use as a tool to reinforce male dominance. It was an organising principle constructed as a marker of social difference used to assign bodies into binaries of social behaviours, roles, emotional styles, and responsibilities to glamourise the western ideal of heterosexual masculine dominance. Gender history’s conception marked the recognition of women as historical agents for the first time and the realisation that gendered political history was about far more than women winning the vote.

With gender’s newfound prominence in sociological scholarship, it illuminated the structures that normalised and enforced gender roles across historical contexts. It acclimatised itself as an intersectional factor alongside the likes of sexuality, race, class, and religion. Intersectionality makes gender history more inclusive, and therefore, gender history is not only restricted to women. The boundaries between gender and women’s history are substantially blurred, with interchangeable terms across scholarly works. Researching gender makes clear that modern history has been shaped by gendered attributes put in place to reflect the ‘binary’. Modern scholars challenge this, with ‘social constructionism’ proposing that the definition of ‘binary’ gender is nowhere but in historical texts and teachings. Furthermore, looking at history, it is evident that non-binary figures existed, and that many cultures believed in a third (or multiple) genders beyond the binary. Gender history includes transgender and intersex people as much as women, seeking to unpack and debate their experiences under patriarchal scrutiny.  

Gender history encompasses all subjects targeted by patriarchal systems, including male victims of “toxic” masculinity. Scholarly studies have demolished assumptions that men are neutral beings and began to see men through a ‘gender lens’ – Whilst women’s history is primarily examined considering feminine roles, mainstream, male-dominated history is viewed as neutral, addressing ‘larger’ issues than masculine ideologies. Using gender analysis to assess masculinity opens key historical events to interpretation: how did ‘manly’ conduct contribute to major political decisions? For example, the stereotypical male gender roles of making impulsive or judgemental decisions can be understood as an attempt to assert dominance and thus, superiority. Masculinity (and subsequently, white masculinity) greatly affected political decisions once European states adopted the geopolitical principle of “self-determination” and enforced their cultural beliefs onto their colonial subjects.

Colonial constructions of race and gender rejected and stifled specific cultural practices of colonial subjects. Ramirez discusses that in settler states, racial inferiority derived from cultural differences between settlers and natives. Settlers perceived indigenous men as ‘unmasculine’ and therefore racially inferior since they were not providers and did not head their households. Thus, it is arguable that racial harmony was permanently tarnished by ethnocentric “toxic” masculinity, greatly impacting political decisions and demonstrating the importance of intersectional factors.

Recent shifts in rearticulating gender norms have come through queer and transgender subcultures, detaching gender from the sexed body and documenting variances in how gender is understood. Gender historians can analyse these developments and compare them to the past – for example, gender fluidity through androgyny has ebbed and flowed in popular culture. Comparing 1980s fashion icons David Bowie, Prince, and Freddie Mercury who rocked makeup, heels, and crop tops against the gender-conforming clothing of the 2010s would feel like a step back in time. However, androgyny has been making its comeback in the media thanks to Janelle Monae, Harry Styles, and the popularisation of longstanding East-Asian fashion trends. The study of gender representation and fluidity has recently observed how drag-kings have developed in contrast to drag queens. Queens use ironic dramatisations of femininity (“camp”), whereas kings adopt sincere characteristics of masculinity to disorient spectators and question the boundaries of gender. This deconstruction of gender redefines the idea of a ‘binary’ whilst also posing debates on gendered representation.

Feminist discourse itself is another outlet for historical debate. What was once a campaign for basic equal rights has evolved into a rejection of social norms along with the incorporation of wider activism to encompass greater social change. The expansion of third-wave feminism has garnered debate in recent years as “radical” feminism combines women’s rights with LGBTQ+ and BAME movements, incorporating the subgroups of first, and second-wave feminists. Mainstream (predominantly Gen-Z) feminism is an embodiment of past movements that also challenges systemic misogyny on an interpersonal level.

Gender history is more important now than ever. The research conducted in the last few decades enables our generation to deeply examine gender politics and actively advocate for equality. Current events require further study, with the overturn of Roe v Wade and the death of Mahsa Amini marking prominent events in gender history. Historians’ own gendered experiences can often dictate their awareness of gender when analysing the past, meaning gender studies should be accessible to all in order to reflect on a variety of lived experiences.