Lately I’ve been feeling pretty fed up with history. Or as the name suggests, HIS story. The historic silencing of women has become increasingly clear to me as I begin to learn the stories of women that have gone unknown for years and years. I know that I can’t change the past, but I think it’s completely fucked up that women are just now, in recent decades, beginning to be heard and acknowledged for their accomplishments. Not to mention the fact that we don’t learn about any of these women in school. My K-12 education focused primarily on men and male accomplishments, with a few paragraphs in the textbook talking about women (maybe). There were a couple famous white women, and even fewer colored women, usually portrayed as a token black woman (Harriet Tubman) or token Native American woman (Sacajawea). These women were denied the depth and humanity granted to their male counterparts, and their contributions were minimized.
This is clearly problematic. Why is that in my lit classes, we read dozens of books by men, but I cant count the number of books written by women that we read on one hand? Some will argue that all of the classics “just happen to be written by men.” If this is true, then I’m not interested in the classics. I’ve been making a conscious effort to seek out literature written by women, about women, because this is the stuff I was never exposed to at all. The most famous and accomplished writers were men, I was told. Only after I was introduced to Nora Zeale Hurston did I realize that this wasn’t true. I was lucky to have a teacher in high school who expanded our horizons far beyond what school curriculum dictated. We read books like The Awakening, Their Eyes Were Watching God, The Lovely Bones, and Push – books that first introduced me to feminism. Unfortunately, this was the bulk of the female content that I was exposed to in my entire high school education.
As I continue to grow in my feminist identity, it becomes more difficult for me to read “classic” male literature. It becomes difficult because I grow tired of reading about people shitting all over women all the time. In reading Sundiata for my humanities class, I had to force myself to keep going after reading about the blatant rape of Sundiata’s mother. This is something that I must see past, says my professor, or I’ll be missing out on important literature. I couldn’t finish Things Fall Apart when I began reading and noticed that the women were given no names. They simply existed on the periphery and weren’t of enough importance to require names. I couldn’t go on. I understand that it’s a classic novel held in high esteem, but it is literally painful to read about the hate, mistrust, and exploitation of women over and over again. Not to mention the fact that I can’t relate to a story that’s all about men – I can’t find myself in it because I, a woman, am missing.
I want to hear her story. I want to hear about her triumphs and her struggles, and I want to hear about her life. I want to hear how she led the anti-slavery movement and how she was an integral part of the Civil Rights movement years later. I want to hear about her march on Versailles. I want to hear about how she became the first black female lawyer and how she founded organizations to fight against all kinds of oppression. I want to hear about her intelligence, her compassion, her strength, and her resilience.
I’m tired of hearing the same old stories about men. It’s time for her voice to be heard.