Everyone writes about women you need to know in the STEM world-which is a worthy place, but not necessarily a place for all women. Personally, I suck at STEM-related fields, especially in things like code-writing and back-end. While my Photoshop skills are improving (a HD camera app will do that), tech is not really a place for me.
And sometimes it feels like the world doesn’t really represent people like me, the quiet observer who scribbles words down to create a story or narrative. I’m a very proud book nerd. I enjoy diving deep into historical research and finding little bits of facts that create a quilt of facts, figures, and experiences between then and now. I’m definitely someone who enjoys art, even if I suck at it sometimes, because it’s a nice release.
I’m the average Liberal Arts/Humanities student.
But lists often focus on those who make proud discoveries instead of those who contribute in other ways. Right now, I’m reading A Jury of Her Peers: Celebrating American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx by Elaine Showalter. And the sheer amount of American women writers I didn’t know about astounds me. I graduated with a degree in English and a minor in History. I picked the Interdisciplinary concentration because of that quilt effect, so it’s mind boggling to realize the number of ignored when taught at a collegiate level.
For example, how many women are aware of Mary Rowlandson?
Showalter writes that Rowlandson was “forced into writing by extreme and terrible circumstances-three months of captivity among the Narragansett Indians” in a time filled with constant battles of survival (10). And like today, racial assumptions changed as the cultural divide disappeared and extremity necessitated new survival tactics and strategy (13). Watching her daughter Sarah die in her arms, feeling it, changed how she observed the world around her. Profound emotion is a good motivator. When trapped in circumstance, what was once considered grotesque, like horse guts and ears, becomes fuel for carrying on and being able to use previous skills to become indispensable.
I had no idea of the woman’s influence, part of a movement of captivity writing that described harrowing accounts and forcing men to listen. Just as Mercy Otis Warren used connections to promote her play-writings–even wrangling a blurb from President George Washington by carefully dedicating Poems, Dramatic, and Miscellaneous (1790) to honored and revered American heroes. While he didn’t fully endorse the book, her clever tactic made him carefully praise her work by at least flipping through it. Saying, “I am persuaded of its gracious and distinguished reception by the friends of virtue and science” (19).
And why not add a couple more founding fathers to the mix–like some little, nobodies named Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton? Talk about using influence for gaining high favor in the court of public opinion. That’s some smart marketing and one many wish they could use so effortlessly nowadays.
But no one talks about her. Why?
As students in the liberal arts, we should be learning about the women who created the world we now live in. We learn about Susan B. Anthony, albeit briefly, but no one every talks about the long-term ramifications of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and how prohibition was a game changer in solidifying American culture.
Look at the New Woman of Paris and Berlin, cities greatly influenced by the American preoccupation with excess and access. Film globalized the world and the temperance movement moved against the ideological progression. A clash of cultures was created with capitalism as the KO winner. Yet without women looking for adventures and prestige, to be counted among the best, we wouldn’t have the little space we do.
American women’s history didn’t begin in 1776, nor did it end in 1920 with the right to vote. So why are education departments ignoring the contributions?
Society speaks of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker, yet how many know about Zora Neale Hurston?
Hurston worked as a American folklorist, anthropologist, and author. Their Eyes Were Watching God offers a deep look into southern black culture around the early 20th century, yet no one really talks about it. Or the fact she attended Howard University and was a co-founder of the university’s student paper The Hilltop. Or that she later worked with Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, and Frank Boas. Walker revived interest in Hurston’s work in the 1970s; however, it was the author’s work as a writer, historian, and anthropologist that stood the test of time.
Survival and documenting the struggle of being a woman isn’t easy. And sometimes a little disheartening to see the work of so many women getting ignored for the sake of marketability. Also, being a STEM major or focused women isn’t a bad thing. But in the shuffle for competitive market, oftentimes the people writing the changes are ignored for the sake of national glory. And that’s a pity because it silences women’s voices.
How many artists and creators has America lost because women slipped into the cracks, considered not “good enough” for high praise? Where are the lost voices? And do we need to follow Walker’s footsteps in reclaiming the voices of the silenced?
It’s International Women’s Day. So tell me who would you like to see featured in equality education? Which women aren’t filling the history books? And who is being purposely ignored?
- Dumenil, Lynn. “The New Woman and the Politics of the 1920s,” OAH Magazine of History (2007) 21 (3): 22-26 doi:10.1093/maghis/21.3.22 (Full PDF: https://trumanlibrary.org/educ/betweenthewars/Reinterpreting1920s.pdf.)
- Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel.
- Showalter, Elaine. A Jury of Her Peers: American Women Writers from Anne Bradstreet to Annie Proulx. New York: Vintage, 2009. Print.
- Walker, Alice. “Looking For Zora,” Reprinted from Ms. magazine, 1975. http://www.plainlocal.org/userfiles/448/Looking%20For%20Zora%20A_%20Walker.pdfr.pdf