Women's Studies Encyclopedia
Helen Tierney
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The Women's Studies Encyclopedia contains information about women from all fields and disciplines of study, written in nonspecialist language and in a style accessible to all readers. The idea for the encyclopedia grew out of the discovery, when I first began to organize a course in women's history, that to teach about women, information from beyond the confines of my own area of expertise was essential. Conversations with colleagues interested in offering introductory women's courses or courses in their own disciplines showed that we all shared the same problem: a need for knowledge outside our own fields of interest but with neither the time nor the training to find and understand the results of current research in disciplines other than our own.
Students discovering the then brand-new world of women's studies, male colleagues interested either in broadening their own courses to include something about the other half of humanity or at least in finding out "what the fuss was all about," and women in the "real world" of business and homemaking also evinced interest in a reference that would offer basic information with the latest research and reflection about women from a feminist perspective. The encyclopedia tries to meet these needs.
Since the publication of the first edition of the Women's Studies Encyclopedia, research on women has proceeded rapidly; feminist thought has grown and branched out; conditions for women have changed markedly in some areas of life, for good and for ill, and little in others; material conditions in various areas of the world have offered new opportunities or set back advances. Less than ten years after its publication, many articles in the Encyclopedia had become out-of-date. In fact, the rapid changes taking place in Eastern Europe a decade ago were making some articles obsolete even before the third volume was published.
Since the early 1980s there has been an increase in women's studies and feminist reference materials, but the need for a multidisciplinary reference tool that touches on all facets and aspects of the female condition is still needed. To better meet that need, the new edition of the Encyclopedia has been somewhat enlarged, but, of course, three volumes cannot do more than scratch the surface. There are new articles; some articles have been completely rewritten; many others have been revised or updated. Some omissions have been corrected, and the number of articles in some areas has increased. There is more complete coverage of violence against women, as well as additional materials on women in public life. There are also more articles on contemporary conditions for women in specific countries or regions, but it was impossible to cover every country and every region of the world.
The entries in the Encyclopedia are meant to convey information to an educated audience without expertise in the subject under discussion. The bibliographic apparatus is, therefore, limited. The references included at the end of many of the articles are meant primarily to direct readers to works from which they may obtain a fuller explanation, more detailed information, or different perspectives on a subject.
The focus, as in the first edition, is on the American experience. Although a wide array of articles deal with women in other areas of the world and other cultures or on women in general, unless otherwise specified articles deal with women in the United States.
The articles are not written from a single feminist perspective. One aim in inviting contributions was to incorporate as wide a variety of feminist approaches as possible, so that all shades of opinion, from those so conservative that some will deny they are feminist, to the most radical, are represented. They do not, therefore, necessarily represent or agree with my own perspective.
As in the first edition, uniformity of organization and structure for articles of such widely varying subjects was not feasible, but one feature, the omission of the word "women" from entry titles, is fairly consistent, since every article is about women.
This edition is arranged more simply than the last, in alphabetical order. In cases where it was thought that the grouping of entries would make locating them more convenient, individual entries will share a common heading (e.g., articles related to French women's history, such as the Code Napoleon, are listed under "France"; articles about dowry in Western Europe and in India are listed under "dowry").
Cross-references have been reduced to a minimum. When a word or phrase used as the heading of an entry appears as a noun in another entry, the cross-reference is indicated by an asterisk.1 When a major topic might be listed under several different headings, cross-references to the heading are given.
The names of the authors of entries follow the entries and are also listed under Consultants and Contributors. Those articles that are not signed were written by the editor.
Helen Tierney
October 1997