Where are all the Women?
I grew up surrounded by strong women. Both of my grandmothers were doctors; my aunt was a PhD chemist; my mother had a master's degree in library science. This gave me an appreciation for accomplishment, and also an understanding of what we, as people are capable of doing - regardless of our sex.
In school, learned about many consequential leaders in history. Most were men. So I got the impression that accomplished women were the exception. Years later, I was surprised to learn how many women leaders co-existed with the very men I learned about. I came to the realization that women in leadership roles were not the exception throughout most of history. Here are just a few examples that you may not have heard of. If you did, you're certainly more educated than I am:
- Empress Jito of Japan: who fought and led an army, while pregnant
- Ching Shih: Chinese Pirate who, at one point, commanded a fleet 80,000 strong
- Shirley Chisholm: First black congresswoman
- Lyudmila Pavlichenko: Soviet Sniper in WWII credited with killing 309 enemy soldiers, and toured the US with Eleanor Roosevelt (yup) to help garner support for the war
- Huda Shaarawi: Egyptian feminist leader in the 1920s (think about that for a minute)
- Dahomey Amazons: Women soldiers in the kingdom of Dahomey respected for their bravery
- Ya Asantewaa: Lead thousands of soldiers and people in the Ghana revolution in 1900
The list goes on and on! And yet I never heard of any of them until recently. Of course there were others that I did learn about; Susan B. Anthony, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, and Katherine the Great. But these were few and far in between. And although they were women of character, conviction and action, and with the exception of a select few who had their power passed down to them via a monarchy, they were not powerful. When I learned about Chinese history, for example, I remember the emperors I learned about were all men, often commanding one of the largest and most advanced armies on earth. It would have been an interesting thing to learn that one of them was helpless against a woman commanding 80 fucking thousand pirates!
"Why do you care?"..."that's just the way things were, you sound like a fucking liberal retard"....I'm glad you asked, and stated your opinion. See, I have 2 young female cousins (and one older cousin). I'm inherently vested in their upbringing, and how women's image is presented to them is crucial in this endeavor. That's why the following quote scares the ever living bejeesus out of me:
Holy shit! Why? What's causing this?
Now, I'm not a psychiatrist or a psychologist, or a medical professional at all for that matter. I'm just a guy making observations, educated guesses and in some cases uneducated ones. Be be that as it may, I can't help but wonder whether the images we're feeding young girls of what women are supposed to behave, look like, and dress like are seriously driving this. The way we present history, believe it or not, is a big factor.
Take my own example. Yes, I know, I'm not a woman. But my own first-hand perspective is all I have. So humor me. I've always wanted to write. In class, I learned about successful poets, novelists, and journalists. Many that I learned about were like me. White men. There's nothing inherently wrong about this. We shouldn't not learn about someone just because they were a white guy. That's nonsense and it isn't my point. What I would like to point out is that, for me, the fact that there were other people out there, like me, helped normalized my own dreams. There were other people out there, like me, who succeeded in what I thought about doing. Maybe it was possible.
This can be applied to any field - science, math, academia, and leadership to name a few. How we present those who came before us, and how seriously we take the dreams of our kids, is a big part of what drives their self worth. Lack of self-worth is a major factor in depression, and depression is a major cause of suicide. Now, I'm not advocating that the answer to the deeply troubling statistic I cited was teaching a 5-year-old girl that she really CAN be a pirate. What I'm advocating, is a lesson in perspective.
By including powerful women in history class, we can make it a point to teach young girls that they can be tough, they can be gentle, they can be whatever they want to be...that's normal and has been normal for thousands of years. It can teach girls that women being oppressed is the exception, and countries and people who do it are going against the grain of history. Wouldn't that be empowering! Ok, so even if my statement about women's oppression being the exception is false, at the very least, I think , at least, it's important to give both young girls and boys a sense of just how many truly powerful women existed, and exist today. The boys must learn that it is normal, and that working for a woman doesn't make them worse. The girls would have more of an appreciation of what they can achieve. Knowing about such women might even normalize their dreams, like it did mine.
However, the most important thing that giving this more accurate version of history would do is to help girls gain a different outlook. To teach them that the photoshopped, emaciated model they see on the cover of seventeen magazine, a model who they will never look like because she isn't real, isn't the "typical" female - that's literally never been the case.
Sure, this image portrayal is outside the classroom. Unless a kid sneaks a magazine into class, chances are it isn't part of the curriculum. Movies, books, magazines, and parents all play a vital, and many times unfortunate role, in steering girls astray in this regard. But school is where kids are supposed to expand their mind. The content they learn their shouldn't necessarily chive with pop culture, but be a force against it, where it's important. The history of leadership, strength and power is definitely one of the areas.