It was an evening during the week when my daughter was in third grade, and she came home with a study sheet for her test in Social Studies later that month. I took the paper from her hand and scanned it, pleased to notice that the subject of the test would be the history of California, and Los Angeles - good; I was not familiar with the history of our state and would be happy to learn it at the same time as my daughter.
Except, when I scanned the list of important people, dates, and events in our history I was startled to realize that there was not one female name on this list. A list of important people, places, and things, in the history and settling of our state and city... and not one mention of a female. None.
It made me shudder to realize that my daughter and her friends had been sitting in class as they went over their history, learning these names and facts, as I considered what it was teaching them when no women were included or seemed worthy of comment.
|Signing of the Constitution, Rossier, 1860-70. A typical history book illustration.|
What does that say?
Does my daughter know that the reason women aren't mentioned is that they were working inside, doing other things, as the men folk organized and explored outside (an working damn hard at it too, just like the women were doing)? Does she know that the women were not given an equal chance to go outside, to set out on voyages or treks of discovery, be they for better or for worse? Does she know the men were the ones who kept the records, who became writers or journalists, the ones who kept the history books?
She doesn't know any of these things. She just knows (even if she doesn't know she knows) that when she learns about the history of our country, about the people and events that shaped where we are today - that the women are notably absent.
Where are all the women in the history books? Where are these women?
This is what I decided to find out.
The next part
Following that, I wasn't quite sure of what the best way to confront this issue was.
Should I talk to Sevilla about it, to see if she had noticed they weren't learning about girls, and see what she thought about it? Should I explain why that was? If so, what would I say?
Should I talk to the teacher about it? Demand that they address it, or add more material with women in it?
I decided I didn't want to talk to Sevilla about it - about how society in general treats and views women as being inferior - until I had an idea of how I was going to convince her that this was not so. Put another way, I didn't want to pull the ugly beast of sexism out into the sunlight for us to look at, without also being ready to smash the bastard over the head.
And I didn't think the teachers would respond that much to me approaching them about it - after all, the syllabus was the syllabus, at least for now.
So I started thinking about what I knew I could do.
- I could learn more about women in history, who they are, and what they did - after all, how can I be expected to teach my children about it, if I don't even know myself?
- I could learn more about how women are minimized and excluded from history, and what the impact of that is - how big an issue are we dealing with?
- I could learn what resources exist now that are pro-women in history, and can be used to educate.
- I could surround my kids with incredible examples of female leadership, innovation, creativity, intelligence, bravery, and passion - just to name a few! I could buy children's books about these women, tell their stories - promote their values and lives. Their examples matter!
There are just way too many awesome women to learn about, and discover.
So, from April 1st 2016 to March 31st 2017, I'll be posting here once daily. I expect this will be challenging for me personally, but I've also found it to be incredibly rewarding to learn about women I previously knew so little about. It's be empowering and stimulating in ways I didn't anticipate, and I'd like to keep going.
I hope you'll stay with me and check some of them out.