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Archive for the month “July, 2013”

Herstory vs History

It’s summer and school is out. BUT not feminist school! That’s 365 days a year, just like sexism is.

That’s pretty much the sentence I said to my nieces as they told me about their summer plans. I think the sentence was the equivalent of blowing out the candles on someone else’s birthday cake. Cruel, yet hilarious.

But given they hadn’t heard from me for a while, they kindly accommodated. Sometimes I wonder who’s really the adult…

My niece was telling me about how they were given a reading list over the summer period to get ready for the next academic year. I looked through it and of 12 books, only 2 were by women. You read that and shrugged, didn’t you? Yes, sadly it’s all a little unsurprising, but it got me thinking about women in the curriculum.

When I was at school, the only time I remember women being discussed was over a 2 week period when we were studying the Suffragettes in History. I asked my nieces if this was still the case, and essentially, it still is. Although one of them mentioned more women authors recommended by one of her English teachers (bravo). So where in history is Herstory?

Why women are excluded from much of the curriculum is obvious, women were not entitled to educate themselves, participate widely in society or have careers, so how would they have made the scientific discoveries, the political speeches or the athletic achievements that would entitle them to be part of the history books? But that’s not the whole truth, is it? Women were still accomplishing things behind the scenes and in more “contemporary” history were working alongside men – but they are a mere shadow in comparison to men in history. In a 2013 curriculum, where we are creating minds that will shape the tomorrow of our society, shouldn’t we be making more of an effort to celebrate to accomplishments of women throughout history? Now that we “know better” shouldn’t we be looking to undo this error of erasing women from the tapestry of society? Our classrooms are doing the equivalent of what IKEA did to their Saudia Arabia catalogue.

This all has made me look up this clip from 10 Things I Hate About You (go to 5.30)

“the oppressive patriarchal values that dictate our education.” Brilliant.

Dearest Kat from the film (secretly who I wished I was) has a point, what about the women?

If we’re teaching history are we including Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Indira Ghandi? From what I remember I was taught about Emmeline Pankhurt and I was introduced to Anne Frank as “a girl who wrote a diary” (forget that it’s been translated into 67 languages) before we moved on to talk about the second world war. I managed to get Jane Austen into my fifth year at school, but it was after pestering my English teacher to allow me to do my discursive essay on “feminist protagonists in English literature”, maybe I was more like Kat, then I realised *high fives self*

If we’re teaching Modern Studies or politics are we including discussion on the gendered analysis and impact of sexism on political decision making? Do we hear about contemporary women leaders like Hillary, Aung Sang Su Ki, Angela Merkel or Julia Gillard? I only remember something about Thatcher (I also remember a pretty sexist bias in how I was told about her) despite being at school in the late 90’s/early 20’s, by which point some other women had made their political mark across the world.

If we don’t talk about the contribution that women make, then we disregard their place in history and we tell young people that the world was, and still is, built on the shoulders of men only. What attitude does that give the boy who is already in a world which entitles him to greatness or the girl who wonder whether the world will be willing to accept her greatness?

It is on this note (see what I did there?! You will in a minute) that a campaign has emerged to keep Elizabeth Fry on five pound notes (now you get it). The campaign states that by removing the only woman (yes, except for the Queen) on banknotes, we are erasing their accomplishments. Currently Fry is to be replaced by Winston Churchill. It might seem small, nobody really pays attention, you just hand it over at the check out in Tesco. But, when you think about it, it’s quite a statement. A piece of currency, representing the United Kingdom, pays tribute to a woman for her accomplishments. Removing her makes quite a statement too.

Back to education, it would seem, I’m not the only one who sees this deficit in the curriculum. The Astell Project aims to get an equality audit performed on the school curriculum (albeit only in England and Wales) and to have gender studies included as part of the core curriculum by 2015. You can find out more about it here and sign up to support.

If you’ve got young people in your family or are a parent, how about this summer, doing a bit of an equality audit yourself, and find out how many women appear in the history books? If like me you, unsurprisingly, find the books to me male, pale and stale, pick a woman from history and maybe talk to them about her (try and make it fun though, otherwise, I’ve ruined more summer holidays than just my nieces’)

P.S My niece just called me to tell me that she is reading the two women authors on her list first and then making a summer list to ask her teachers about – so chats with me can’t be that bad! (although, I doubt her teacher will be saying the same thing)


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