I first realized how women were represented in history when I became a history teacher and had to teach the few women that were included in the curriculum. I naively thought that because it was world history and the course covered 10,000 years of history, that some women would have been included in the course. But I was wrong. And the women they included were there to fill a quota, nothing more.
As a student of history I personally had always been interested in women in history. Sure, I played along and studied the men because there is no choice in the matter. Historians and writers of their time were taught that women didn’t matter, they had no rights for most of human existence, and women did not deserve to have any attention paid to them.
But I knew, somehow, that women must have played a very important role throughout history because women today, not enough women granted, but still, many women today still manage to work their way into powerful positions. The lack of documentation about the accomplishments of women seemed purposeful.
However, today, historians and teachers, even with the knowledge that women were ignored and maligned and lied about throughout history, still teach about women in the same manner as they always have.
My absolute favorite example is Hildegard of Bingen who is currently seeing a resurgence in her importance as world history and European history courses are scrambling to include women to fill their quotas. Nevertheless, if being able to say that 10% or 20% of the course is dedicated to underrepresented history yet there is no attempt to showcase the wonderful stories and accomplishments then the gestures are empty, ridiculous, and sexist.
Listed as public domain on Wikipedia. Hildegard of Bingen and her nuns.
Hildegard of Bingen is always, ALWAYS, described as a woman who became a nun and lived a wonderfully free life. Every text that I have personally analyzed that discusses Hildegard describes the “career” of nun as a choice that women made. Often, it is said that the choice was the only career acceptable for women (which begs the question of, “is it really a choice then?”) and many women often found the life free of men and the pressures of marriage and children to be liberating.
Let me state unequivocallly: women were usually forced to join the church. It wasn’t a choice. The women had no rights and could not refuse. It wasn’t a place full of hippie lesbians looking to get away from men. It was a difficult life full of rules and laws that they were powerless to challenge and change. Very few women distinguished themselves in the church as the church did not believe women were equal.
But Hildegard of Bingen was different. She was a badass woman who exerted her intelligence and logic on the men surrounding her. She became a very famous church leader (which wasn’t very high up because she was a woman after all). She was a combination of Maya Angelou, Lady Gaga, Oprah, and Malala Yousafzai. She was a writer, a feminist, a musician, and she had a wonderful presence about her. Her words were important for her time. Major world leaders would write to her seeking her influence. The church allowed her to write about some very serious feminist topics like orgasms and sexuality.
Yet, if she is included in school curriculum, all that is written about her, all that students are expected to know is that she was a nun in the church and that she loved it.
It is time to change how we write about women. It is time to change the perspective that women have enjoyed their existence. It is no longer acceptable to expose students to the ideas that all women choose their career in the church. Frankly, we cannot call it a career since they couldn’t rise the ranks of the church.
We are lying to ourselves and our students when we tell them that women were taken care of by their fathers, husbands, or brothers. It is a lie when we say that certain women like Sacajewea and Pocahontas were married, as if they had a choice, and were in love.
Both images listed as public domain on Wikipedia.
Women who are remembered for being slutty or horrible mothers may not have actually been those things. Those are the common go-to insults that people still use against women.
The time has come to tell the real history of women and get more teachers to commit to teach #realwomenshistory.