Equality And Education: Teaching Women’s History

There is more than just one story, the history of women deserves to have its place in classrooms.

We are more than a special interests topic that you can take as an elective in a four year college. We are half the world. We have helped create the world we live and die in, and yet our stories go untold in high school classrooms across the world.

What does this show teenagers? That there is only one story that deserves its place in history books? That the perspectives and accomplishments of the patriarchy are the only ones worthy of teaching millions of children every single day? Do you not see that what we learn from our tenderest and youngest of years shapes our minds and turns us into the very beings who participate in public and private spheres? If a child, and subsequently teenagers and adults, only learn about the men of our histories, then that diminishes the equality, the accomplishments of women.

If the majority of the literature that we are taught in schools is from the canon, if women cannot identify or relate to the texts that they are assigned, then how can we progress? I remember feeling isolated and distant from the characters I read in books, was there no one like me? Am I not important? Are women not interesting? I am not saying that learning the works of Shakespeare, Wilde, Poe, Hemingway or Fitzgerald isn’t worthwhile, but that is an exceptionally narrow perspective of the world. And frankly, sometimes it’s a rather boring perspective of the world. There is a certain amount of shame felt when you read texts from the canon and you don’t understand or relate to them. It took me 10 years to realize that there was no shame in that. I can read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie or Jhumpa Lahiri and laugh, cry, love and smile page after page. I feel comfortable, I feel at home.

Joanna Russ, an American feminist writer stated rather poignantly in her essay, “What Can A Heroine Do?” that, “Culture is male.” She further supports her arguments by detailing how the canon and our Western literature follows a strict narrative form, common myths, and that when women are included, they are depicted as empty female archetypes. Russ then details the wonderfully titled “Bitch Goddess” archetype. The Bitch Goddess may not ring a bell by that name, but she has many incarnations for she is so very recycled. Bitch Goddess is, “a figure who is beautiful, irresistible, ruthless but fascinating, fascinating because she is somehow cheap or contemptible, who (in her more passive form) destroys men by her indifference and who (when the male author is more afraid of her) destroys men actively, sometimes by shooting them,” Russ writes.

So if history is dominated by white men and if our literature is overrun by female archetypes and male perspectives then it only makes sense for people to fear the voices of the oppressed. Why do you think people fear feminism? Why do you think women’s access to rights are constantly hindered? Why do you think women are paid less for equal work? Why do you think women are still expected to aspire to marriage and maternity? Why do you think women are demonized for their sexuality? Why do you think women don’t hold 50% of the political roles? Why do you think women are raped every single day?

Because as Russ said, “Culture is male.”

Women are not regarded as being equal to men because we are not taught that we are. Our culture perpetuates the myths and narratives that the patriarchy is comfortable with you absorbing. If you believe that women are weaker, dumber than you, then you don’t have to treat them with equal respect. If you believe that our world was built by men, then you don’t have to treat women like full human beings with inner-thoughts, personalities, dreams, ambitions, fears, quirks, secrets, habits, flaws, scars and stories.

It wasn’t until September 2014 that I started to really learn about the women who have helped create our society, the women who were brave enough defy the roles imposed upon them by their oppressors. I shouldn’t have only just found out about Noor Inayat Khan and her bravery during World War Two. I shouldn’t have only just leaned about Alice Paul and Lucy Burns and their fight for women’s right to vote. I should have been taught sooner about Audre LordeSojouner Truthbell hooksGloria AnzalduaEmma GoldmanMary WollstonecraftFlora Tristan,Adrienne Rich and more. Why wasn’t I? Because, “Culture is Male.”

I went to a reputable, private school in Geneva, Switzerland. Our education was diverse and thorough. I have considered myself a feminist for as far back as I can remember and yet I am disgusted that our curriculum focused almost entirely on the accomplishments of men. We were a nationally, ethnically diverse student body, yet approximately 90% of what we read was written by white men.

Women are not a special interests group. Students deserve to learn about women, read about women and read their perspectives. We cannot expect a progressive, feminist, post-racial society without teaching every student of the value of women and their contribution to the world.

It must become mandatory in every single school to teach students about the women who helped build our nations, helped nurture our cultures and move us forward into what we have today.

Disclaimer: This post was written by a Feministing Community user and does not necessarily reflect the views of any Feministing columnist, editor, or executive director.

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