From Jezebel, “Eight-year-old Stella Ehrhart decides what to wear each day by looking through her book,100 Most Important Women of the 20th Century, and picking a different notable female historical figure.
Recent selections include Billie Holiday (black dress, red tissue-paper flower), Grace Kelly (pink satin lace), and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (Girl knows how to mix it up!)”
Wow what an awesome idea! And probably a great confidence booster!
This weekend I was schmoozing at an event when some guy asked me what kind of history I study. I said “I’m currently researching the role of gender in Jewish emigration out of the Third Reich,” and he replied “oh you just threw gender in there for fun, huh?” and shot me what he clearly thought to be a charming smile.
The reality is that most of our understandings of history revolve around what men were doing. But by paying attention to the other half of humanity our understanding of history can be radically altered.
For example, with Jewish emigration out of the Third Reich it is just kind of assumed that it was a decision made by a man, and the rest of his family just followed him out of danger. But that is completely inaccurate. Women, constrained to the private social sphere to varying extents, were the first to notice the rise in social anti-Semitism in the beginning of Hitler’s rule. They were the ones to notice their friends pulling away and their social networks coming apart. They were the first to sense the danger.
German Jewish men tended to work in industries which were historically heavily Jewish, thus keeping them from directly experiencing this “social death.” These women would warn their husbands and urge them to begin the emigration process, and often their husbands would overlook or undervalue their concerns (“you’re just being hysterical” etc). After the Nuremberg Laws were passed, and after even more so after Kristallnacht, it fell to women to free their husbands from concentration camps, to run businesses, and to wade through the emigration process.
The fact that the Nazis initially focused their efforts on Jewish men meant that it fell to Jewish women to take charge of the family and plan their escape. In one case, a woman had her husband freed from a camp (to do so, she had to present emigration papers which were not easy to procure), and casually informed him that she had arranged their transport to Shanghai. Her husband—so traumatized from the camp—made no argument. Just by looking at what women were doing, our understanding of this era of Jewish history is changed.
I have read an article arguing that the Renaissance only existed for men, and that women did not undergo this cultural change. The writings of female loyalists in the American Revolutionary period add much needed nuance to our understanding of this period. The character of Jewish liberalism in the first half of the twentieth century is a direct result of the education and socialization of Jewish women. I can give you more examples, but I think you get the point.
So, you wanna understand history? Then you gotta remember the ladies (and not just the privileged ones).
It is funny, how erasure of women from history can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it would be nice to think that women were not tangled up in such a destructive project. But they were there, and we owe it to them and future generations to remember them.
I think we all know who was on Howard Stark’s security detail, though:
Women invented all the core technologies that made civilization possible. This isn’t some feminist myth; it’s what modern anthropologists believe. Women are thought to have invented pottery, basketmaking, weaving, textiles, horticulture, and agriculture. That’s right: without women’s inventions, we wouldn’t be able to carry things or store things or tie things up or go fishing or hunt with nets or haft a blade or wear clothes or grow our food or live in permanent settlements. Suck on that.
Women have continued to be involved in the creation and advancement of civilization throughout history, whether you know it or not. Pick anything—a technology, a science, an art form, a school of thought—and start digging into the background. You’ll find women there, I guarantee, making critical contributions and often inventing the damn shit in the first place.
Women have made those contributions in spite of astonishing hurdles. Hurdles like not being allowed to go to school. Hurdles like not being allowed to work in an office with men, or join a professional society, or walk on the street, or own property. Example: look up Lise Meitner some time. When she was born in 1878 it was illegal in Austria for girls to attend school past the age of 13. Once the laws finally eased up and she could go to university, she wasn’t allowed to study with the men. Then she got a research post but wasn’t allowed to use the lab on account of girl cooties. Her whole life was like this, but she still managed to discover nuclear fucking fission. Then the Nobel committee gave the prize to her junior male colleague and ignored her existence completely.
Men in all patriarchal civilizations, including ours, have worked to downplay or deny women’s creative contributions. That’s because patriarchy is founded on the belief that women are breeding stock and men are the only people who can think. The easiest way for men to erase women’s contributions is to simply ignore that they happened. Because when you ignore something, it gets forgotten. People in the next generation don’t hear about it, and so they grow up thinking that no women have ever done anything. And then when women in their generation do stuff, they think “it’s a fluke, never happened before in the history of the world, ignore it.” And so they ignore it, and it gets forgotten. And on and on and on. The New York Times article is a perfect illustration of this principle in action.
Finally, and this is important: even those women who weren’t inventors and intellectuals, even those women who really did spend all their lives doing stereotypical “women’s work”—they also built this world. The mundane labor of life is what makes everything else possible. Before you can have scientists and engineers and artists, you have to have a whole bunch of people (and it’s usually women) to hold down the basics: to grow and harvest and cook the food, to provide clothes and shelter, to fetch the firewood and the water, to nurture and nurse, to tend and teach. Every single scrap of civilized inventing and dreaming and thinking rides on top of that foundation. Never forget that.
from a post by Reclusive Leftist on women’s erasure in history.
her comments relate specifically to an article by the NYT thanking “the men” who invented modern technology, but pick absolutely any academic field of study, and women’s contributions are minimized, if not outright ignored.
literature has been a huge part of my life for a long time, and i grew up reading the classics—which, of course, are typically books written by white men, depicting their experiences. i was taught that the first “modern novel” was Don Quixote, written in the early 1600s by a guy (Cervantes). i don’t think i know of a word to accurately describe my mixture of outrage, shock, and pride, when i discovered later that actually, the first modern novel was written 600 years earlier—by a woman! (it’s The Tale of Genji, written by a Japanese lady-in-waiting who was known as Murasaki Shikibu.)
this might not seem important, but if you’re a woman you know just how vital this knowledge is. even now, when women are being told that we can do anything we set our minds to, the historical, literary, and scientific figures we learn about are all men. it’s a much more insidious way to discourage women from aiming high—because what’s the point in putting in so much hard work if it’s not even going to be remembered after you’re dead?
All of this. For a long time, women couldn’t apply for patents in the US, so even if they invented something, they had to let their husband or male colleague take credit for it. Us ladies had made significant contributions to every field of study out there, and I am sick and tired of seeing that shit get ignored.
I’ve had lots of new followers since my last real update, but being featured by Sadie Magazine was the final kick I needed to get back to this.
Here’s a quick rundown of the philosophy behind this blog:
Women’s achievements tend to go, not necessarily unmentioned, but uncredited in the history books. Women have always been doing awesome stuff, much of which we couldn’t do without in today’s world. But the problem is so few are remembered and honored for their contributions to the modern science and society (like inventing Kevlar). And there are also women who have done stuff that is just flat out impressive (like striking out Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig back-to-back). So the point of this blog is to be cheeky and stick our collective tongues out at sexists who make stupid jokes about sandwiches and kitchens and tell them to GTFO their Wi-Fi if they don’t want the ghost of Hedy Lamarr to come after them.
I tend to avoid posts about women who were just the “first woman” to do something— but fortunately, most “first women” did plenty of other awesome stuff in their lives.
As for me, I’m Alexa, I’m a ladytype and a feminist (shocker!). I also run another blog about ladies, the ones in the comics medium, called Ladies Making Comics which, you know, you could check out and follow maybe? I do have a full-time job, which is nice, but I’m still working out how to comfortably fit blogging into my days, so submissions are very much appreciated!
Thanks for following, hope you enjoy and learn some things!
Awww... kinda hate to hear about the name change. I hope u dont censor things for the sake of the kiddies. I dont really subscribe to the school of thought of "protecting the innocents." I thinks its a bit demeaning to their intellect to say that kids arent ready for certain pieces of info. Just a word of caution... and encouragement! Love ur blog!!!
Here’s the thing— I was swearing like a sailor at 13, and I’m quite sure a lot of kids today are the same. But if librarians or teachers want to point their students this way, I want them to be able to say the blog’s name without getting fired. Besides, this isn’t Badass of the Week or Cracked— sure, we all deliver awesome historical fact, but they’re aiming for a bit of a laugh, whereas I’m going for epiphany. I don’t need to swear to get my point across (and rarely do as it is), so I really feel that at this point it was holding me back more than it could possibly be helping.
So, it’s been pointed out to me that this blog could be a great resource for younger people. And I very much agree. So I have changed the potentially offensive original name to Awesome Stuff Women Did (and have changed the URL as well). Just so’s you know when you want to refer people over here!
Specifically, I’m looking for women of color and non-Europeans/Americans. I’m going through this blog and finding that, despite my best some efforts, ASWD still overwhelmingly features USians and/or white people. So, I’d like some balance. Erasure of the accomplishments people of color often goes hand-in-hand with erasure of women. I’ve got a few African-Americans on deck, and more would be great, but I would still like to have some even geographical and ethnic/racial distribution of awesome women!