In response to a reader’s comment on my usage of “his-story” and “herstory” in this post, I wrote this little response.
The terms herstory / her-story are used in feminist writings for the precise point of underlining exactly how much women have been left out of the masculine narrative of world events, i.e., history. I even wrote a musical called Herstory, dealing with this very topic. (To hear a few demos, go to my personal site: TrishCausey.com.)
It’s not so much an etymological derivation I’m going for with his-story or even her-story, but rather a play on words, making the distinction between history — the narrative we’re taught in school and take for granted as “accurate,” and his-story — the overwhelmingly one-sided male version of world events that its orchestrators consistently and conveniently left women out of — all of which echoes the current political climate, a.k.a. the 2012 elections that prompted the right-wing Republicans’ “War on Women,” that caused Democrats and social activists to ask the question: Where Are the Women?!
As they say, the conquerors write the history books, and this is true whether it is women being left out or the “other side” of the story being obscured to make the conqueror look better.
When I was in school, “World History” consisted only of the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, a paragraph or two on ancient China, a hiccup on India, and then jerking off to the wonders of Columbus and the so-called “discovery” of the “New World.” This hardly covers all of world history, and frankly, it’s a piss-poor job of a “survey” of history as well.
Archeological evidence around the world proves women were involved in all aspects of society: fighting in battles, doing daily domestic chores within a tribe or clan, leading religious activities as priestesses, acting as medical healers of an entire community, and officiating in government as judges and/or chieftains or queens. The fact that the emphasis on goddesses is so prevalent on ancient cultures sheds but a glimpse of the extent to which women might have been revered.
From the rise of the imperial, patriarchal regimes of antiquity through the 20th century, women who really wanted to participate did so in “drag,” dressing as a man in order to fulfill their purposes in helping with a cause. Women who were openly independent, standing up to oppressive religion and government or fully participating in teaching the next generation of girls the women’s mysteries, were accused of Witchcraft and summarily arrested, tortured, and executed in one form or another, burning at the stake being the favored method in Europe, while hanging or even stoning was preferred in the “New World.” And yes, I wrote a musical on this as well: Witchcraze.
Women have not only been erased from history (i.e., Hatshepsut’s statues in Egypt de-faced and her named chiseled out of the stone to erase her legacy — quite literally), but women have not been accurately included in history to begin with. In medieval Europe, the tradition of not even recording girls’ names when they were born was common — because girls were not important. But boys’ names were recorded because property, family names, and inheritances were passed down through the male line under the patriarchal societal system.
When I participated in a medieval historical re-enactment group, the name nerds were sticklers for making sure everyone’s persona had a legitimate, verifiable name for the time frame and nationality of the persona. As a 12th century Scot, getting my name “approved” was difficult because females were not recorded except in extreme cases, such as a wealthy (for Scotland) couple only having a female child survive to adulthood. (The fact that the Scots at this time were also on the last legs of independence in their indigenous culture, which had an oral tradition not a written language, made documentation difficult as well.) So while they wanted me to prove my name did exist, I told them to prove it didn’t. They couldn’t — because women were not included in the male narrative from the beginning.
I’ve often asked the question — Name 5 famous women from American history. Most people name Betsy Ross, Harriet Tubman, maybe Eleanor Roosevelt, maybe Susan B. Anthony. But no one ever gets to 5 names. They rarely get to the 20th century when women finally earned the right to vote in 1920 and marched in the streets for equal rights in the 1960’s and 1970’s! That shows just how much women have been excluded from the important facts in American his-story. Our brains are drilled on the male war mongers, the American Revolution, the male Founding Fathers, the male presidents, even the male dissidents, the bloody American Civil War, World War I, and World War II. Women were there! Obviously, we were there, or none of us would be here today! But in the common narrative of history, “Where Are the Women?”
It is time to re-write the history books — not as his-story, or even solely her-story, but to tell the tale of all of us.