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History: his story?

The farther one goes back in history, the less often one comes across the names of women.  Why is this?  The answer is complicated and has to do with the very question of what we mean by “historical.”

People have traditionally thought of history as the story of military and religious leaders reshaping political boundaries or reshaping what people believed in.  These activities were often undertaken by men, though not exclusively!  Read about some fascinating women leaders or some famous women in history.

One reason for this is that women of the past were often subject to limited freedoms (Did you know American women have been voting for less than 100 years?). Many, like the Suffragettes were busy fighting heroically for basic rights, even just the right to be heard, while men were engaging in the kinds of battles we often read about.  

But another reason that women weren’t often out conquering other lands was that they were busy doing other things.  The fact is, when we talk about great women of history, we often mean those few women who did things we commonly associate, historically, with men – even the women we looked at in this film fit that profile.  What does it mean to be historically relevant?  Historians of the last 50 years have begun to look at history from the point of groups besides powerful men– groups like farmers, workers and women, challenging traditional historiography.

The more we understand these points of view, the better we are able to build a much more complete picture of what daily life was like for the 108 billion people we estimate have lived on earth.

But perhaps the simplest reason women’s history is not written down is because they didn’t write history!  Prior to about two hundred years ago, women’s literacy rates were low to non-existent, other than cloistered nuns.  In fact, literate women were, and in some places still are, considered quite dangerous.

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), written by the 18th-century British feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. In it, Wollstonecraft responds to those educational and political theorists of the 18th century who did not believe women should have an education. She argues that women ought to have an education commensurate with their position in society, claiming that women are essential to the nation because they educate its children and because they could be "companions" to their husbands, rather than mere wives. Instead of viewing women as ornaments to society or property to be traded in marriage, Wollstonecraft maintains that they are human beings deserving of the same fundamental rights as men.

Reading, getting an education, pursuing what we’re curious about on the internet:  These are things many of us take for granted. But many people do not have these privileges or rights, even still. Equality for women and for disadvantaged people around the globe is still a crucial issue.  Learning about what life is like for people around the world doesn’t mean you have to catch the next ship.  Catch the ship of your curiosity, and see where it leads you.  Educating yourself about the greater world is the best way of guaranteeing that everybody gets to participate in the conversation.  Happy travels.