Constructing narratives to ignore women

(78 Posts)
IdealistAndProudOfIt Sun 06-Jul-14 08:31:29

This is an older piece of writing but I've only just stumbled across it and wanted to share it.

aidanmoher.com/blog/featured-article/2013/05/we-have-always-fought-challenging-the-women-cattle-and-slaves-narrative-by-kameron-hurley/

It's about women being ignored generally as well as specifically fighters. Making me wish I'd gone further into history and could help to rewrite it as it was! Just off to look up the viking women fighters.

How often do we all fall into these traps every day?

kickassangel Sun 06-Jul-14 08:34:19

I teach The Aeneid and point out the obvious problem of the Trojans planning to start an entire new race with almost no mention of women on the ships. I know it's fictional but the Romans treated it as historical.

IdealistAndProudOfIt Sun 06-Jul-14 08:54:42

Very true!

My dh has vociferously talked me into linking the first article which led him to the above. Our thinking being that (it's about videogames) that culture= communication = media and a surprisingly important part of that nowadays is videogames so www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-05-its-not-historically-accurate . It shows that there is an alternative viewpoint out there apart from the ##%**#%# (can't think of an appropriately bad name), not to mention commercial idiots, who made gta5.

IdealistAndProudOfIt Sun 06-Jul-14 08:57:36

(Well I think they're commercial idiots for not taking advantage of the obviously large market that just wants the 'tazzing around' without quite so much violence. You could say the reverse because of the furore and publicity it gives them. Time to stop going off on tangents now).

Thanks for the links - very interesting! It's a good point.

It's a hard one to fight because we are so used to certain historical 'facts' that anything challenging that looks odd...

YY, this drives me absolutely up the wall!

There's some really sobering research on the Holocaust, which shows that men's experiences were treated as historical, and because men didn't necessarily see what happened in the women's camps, such as rape, this became part of the 'hmm, maybe that didn't happen, no men saw it' narrative. hmm

kickassangel Sun 06-Jul-14 15:29:41

One of my friends is a female historian who writes about women's history - specifically about naval history & how Britain being an island with a large number of seafaring men has affected the lives of women. Apparently it's a bit of a niche market (underfunded, under-read, under-valued)

I should probably read one of her books, shouldn't I?

Dervel Sun 06-Jul-14 15:33:57

This topic dovetails into some creative endeavors I'm working, and didn't take me too long to dig up some really interesting characters.

French Opera Singer Swordswoman:

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julie_d'Aubigny

English Aristocratic Highwaywoman:

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lady_Katherine_Ferrers

The woman who fixed a design flaw in the Spitfire during WW II:

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatrice_Shilling

Finally a secret agent during WW II who is also notable as they made the videogame Velvet Assassin inspired by her:

en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beatrice_Shilling

All in all not hard to find, but with the obvious caveat I learned about them from personal interest and not at school in history lessons. The only woman beyond Henry VIII's wives, Queens Elizabeth and Victoria I recall being told about in history lessons was the woman who attempted to assassinate Musollini, but probably only because her grandson went to my school!

Dervel Sun 06-Jul-14 15:35:13

Sorry double linked the engineer the spy was: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violette_Szabo

kickassangel Sun 06-Jul-14 15:36:39

Just looked up what she has had published commercially & available on Amazon - NONE of it about women's history, even though I know that's her specialist area.

kickassangel Sun 06-Jul-14 15:37:48

'she' in my last post = my historian friend.

Sorry - bad cross post

David Starkey, however, believes it's women historians' fault that history is being feminised with too much focus on Henry VIII's wives. hmm

Tanacot Sun 06-Jul-14 16:12:49

Do you all know about Ada Lovelace Day?

But they do a lot of this pointing out the invisible women. Last year I learnt that Hedy Lamarr, the actress, invented a critical technique for spread spectrum frequency hopping. Amazing. Who knew? Well, practically no one because they ignored her work (until it was out of patent) and barred her from the NIC. She was just inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame this year, 15 years after her death.

FesterAddams Sun 06-Jul-14 18:40:38

Hmmn. Whether an individual's contribution is recognised or "ignored" depends on context I think. I happen to have a personal interest in aircraft design, and a professional interest in computing and wireless, so:

Ada Lovelace:
Well known to anyone even vaguely familiar with computing and programming languages. Has a programming language named after her ("Ada") which is widely used in defence and aerospace.
Not well known to the general public - but then how many programmers are household names?

Beatrice Shilling:
Was well known to all Hurricane and Spitfighter pilots in the second world war since their ability to dogfight - and hence their lives - depended on her invention being fitted to their aircraft.
Not well known to the general public - but then how many aircraft designers are household names?

Hedy Lamarr:
Her (co)invention of spread-spectrum frequency hopping is well known to anyone familiar with wireless protocols.
Not well known to the general public - but then how many wireless protocol designers are household names?

Oh, come on, that is not a tenable argument!

If it were simply about 'individuals' do you not think we'd have heard of some of the women who did amazing things?!

And actually, no, Lovelace isn't known to many. My mate's fiance is a computer programmer and claims he has never heard of her. hmm He may be an exception, I admit.

But the issue isn't with individuals. It is, as the OP says, with constructing whole narratives to ignore women. Here's some really common historical narratives I hear all the time:

- In the past, men went away to fight wars and women stayed home, which is why we don't hear about women on battlefields or as combatants.

- Women have never been able to own property so it's no wonder they didn't do much.

- Women were mostly illiterate in the past, so you can hardly be surprised there aren't many books by women before Jane Austen.

- Women were rarely educated and men were the heads of the household, so they were never in positions of power.

- Until about the 1960s, women didn't work, so obviously they would never had much influence there.

- When women worked, they worked at women's tasks in the home, so they were never educated enough to become inventors or thinkers of any kind.

- Women were seen as weak and inferior in the bad old days so of course no-one ever listened to them or let them try out ideas.

These are all nonsense, but that is the sort of narrative that truly explains why we don't hear of individual women who do amazing things. We're already prejudiced to expect we won't.

Dervel Sun 06-Jul-14 19:18:20

You can add to the phrase how many xxxx are household names? If there are they are sure as hell unlikely to be women.

Wasn't Hedy Lemarr an actress? So in short she's allowed to be famous in one limited context, but heaven forbid we recognize her intellect. I thank her for the wifi I can type this from...

Tanacot Sun 06-Jul-14 20:14:24

There are lots of books by women before and around Jane Austen. Jane Austen had a context. You know in Emma, where Harriet lists her favourite novels? They are all real books (by women), that Austen expected her readers to know, and that are telling you something about Harriet's personality.

Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen commenting on (and sending up) a whole genre of mostly women's writing. You can't do parody without something to parody.

The great thing now though is that you can read a lot of these books for free on Google Books and Project Gutenberg. I spent a year just reading women writers - I started with those favourite books of Harriet and explored from there - and some of them are awesome. (Some of them are terrible.) I loved Evelina by Fanny Burney (1778). She's very funny, and the scene in the carriage with the old lech could be a dozen terrible cab rides I've taken hahah.

Tanacot Sun 06-Jul-14 20:23:02

I had never heard of Ada Lovelace until a woman I taught to code wrote an essay (about me blush) for Ada Lovelace Day a couple of years ago and linked me to it. I am vaguely familiar with computers.

Tanacot Sun 06-Jul-14 20:29:43

Sorry I elided two posts there, LRD, and was responding to you as if you didn't know that about JA. Apologies and withdrawn, without reservation!

Oh, no, you're fine! smile

It's just stunning how often people are willing to believe in a select number of women and think they have no context at all, isn't it?

LadyRainicorn Sun 06-Jul-14 20:42:07

Argh! I hate this! I said something (much less articulately) about caitlin morans book annoying me because it seemed to imply that woman doing worthwhile shit only happened during some feminist 'revolution' in the 70s and 80s.

No one understood what I meant sad

women have always been discovering things, doing things, creating things. The count in france who discovered oxygen - he and his wife worked together, it was a joint discovery. Etc etc.

Not to mention the misogyny behind 'just stayed behindand did nothing' trope. So they basically worked the land and fed clothed and brought up the next ggeneration then?

Oh, you're in good company then - Germaine Greer said something along those lines in a review of Moran's book I read.

With you on the misogyny of 'did nothing'. It's the same now, though - someone told me the other day that women in 'third-world countries' still aren't 'free to work'. hmm

Tanacot Sun 06-Jul-14 21:10:19

It's the same thing as when they show women's art in galleries. It's called craft and not signed. I -- I started signing my work when I realised that!

I am part of a (folk/grassroots) women's art community and we get loads of journalists and academics studying us and writing about our art (and publishing and teaching on it for money they don't share with us natch), but it's only quite recently they have started to write down the names or actually take the art seriously as art and not just curious folk artefacts like a beaver dam or something. Or rather, other (women) academics have come in and started historicising and contextualising, which I guess is how they roll.

I mean, I'm not actually much fussed what they write as it's got nowt to do with me or my life, but it's interesting to witness the pattern. It happens to all artists who are not of the establishment, of course, but I do think it matters that we are nearly all women.

Lovecat Sun 06-Jul-14 23:03:05

If nothing else most people of a certain age have heard of Hedy Lamarr because of Blazing Saddles... blush

I had no idea until recently that she was an inventor as well.

Yes, that peeved me about Caitlin Moran's book, like no-one had ever done anything before or between the Suffragists and the 70's.

I love pre-Raphaelite art and in 1998 went to see an exhibition in Manchester about the female artists in the movement - I was totally unaware before that point that there were so many of them, and that they had produced such amazing and beautiful work. Prior to that I was only aware of women's involvement in terms of being muses or lovers to the male artists, without making an in-depth study you would not have been aware of their actual contribution at all.

IdealistAndProudOfIt Mon 07-Jul-14 07:01:28

I shall have to look up some of those women, than you very much for the links.

I'm not much good at art, but I thought that women were well accepted in art nowadays, so that's a surprise. I have commented several times that textile art is simply not seen on the same plane as fine art - just glance at the prices to see how far below it - but there are all sorts of strange things that go on with accepting something as an artform so misogyny needn't be the only thing going on (or mosaics and pottery would still be up there).

It's also notable in even those areas of endeavour normally called women's work, the top people are nearly always men -thinking of cookery.

Going back into history (and mentioning cooking) it is surprising how often the 'man the hunter' sterotyoe still comes up. So where are the women? It is mentioned nowadays that women were off doing the gathering, providing what would have been the more regular food supply. But of course, the occasional bit of protein rich meat was absolutely vital for human development, so you still get the focus on men.

Basically as the article says, men think that whatever they are doing is the most important thing, whatever they are doing is important. Drives me up the wall.

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