The research carried out by historians over the last forty years has revealed the historically constructed character of gender difference, but also shattered the idea of a steady progress towards women’s emancipation, gender equality and the recognition of the supposedly non-conformist, minority or marginal sexual practices. Studying the relationships between men and women and the institutions that produce gender from a long-term perspective shows us a number of historical discontinuities and points of disruption, but also certain continuities. This helps us overcome the "presentist" paradigm, which much too often considers the developments or stagnations in this area solely from the present-day perspective.
Distinguishing between the levels on understanding gender difference (sex, gender, sexualities) allows us to bring to light the gender regimes characteristic of specific periods and societies. Looking at how different social actors become part of these gender regimes through their own experience and on different levels (as individuals, via families, social groups, institutions, nations or empires) represents another way of doing historical research while overcoming the dichotomy between social representations and practices.
The history of gender has helped us cast a new light on the connections between these gender regimes and other discourses, representations and shared categories, which are used to think about a given society at a given time. Power relations between the sexes develop within modes of social organisation that can be thought of in terms of characteristics such as free/enslaved, citizens/non-citizens, privileged/non-privileged, colonisers/colonized, or understood as hierarchical, corporative, unequal or egalitarian. At the same time, they are also shaped by these modes of organisation and reflexive construction.
Feminist thought and activism have helped expose gender inequalities and in modern times allowed for "women" to emerge as both autonomous subjects and a political category. We need a deeper analysis of the historical role feminism has played in the struggles for the legal equality between genders and in the dynamics of gender liberation and transformation, as well as of its specific modes of transmission and memory inscription (see Axes 1 and 2).
By taking historical developments into account, we can identify points of disruption and the ways in which the changes in our understanding of gender have been part of larger social, political and cultural transformations. In this sense, historians of gender have brought a fresh approach to the commonly recognized moments of significant political reorientation (such as the French Revolution or the post-WWII period). Armed conflicts, revolutions, cultural transformations, social upheaval, conquests, colonisations and migrations, globalisation processes - all these large-scale historical phenomena are accompanied by renegotiations, rearrangements, transformations and sometimes violence in the sphere of gender.
On the individual level, temporalities are subject to different constraints and strategies, the gendered dimension of which manifests itself specifically in terms of continuities or discontinuities in careers and training, of a conflict between working time and leisure time and of the question of a permanent availability for domestic working or caring for the (often multiple) dependents in the family and elsewhere. More or less involuntary part-time work, the "double shift”, sharing domestic work and putting off or planning for cohabitation and parenting are at the centre of many sociological or psychosocial analyses, which need to be elaborated further and updated to identify developmental trends. A number of innovative sociological studies also look at the effects that feminism and the changes in women’s access to education and work have had on women’s modes of ageing. More broadly, this area also includes the largely under-researched question of gendered experience among the elderly.