Why Women’s History Is Often Ignored

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At the end of my March 1st post, “Why Do We Need a Women’s History Month?“, I wrote:

“Keep your eyes and your ears open during March and you just might learn something you didn’t even know you didn’t know about the most influential group of people on earth.”

What did I mean by that? I meant that most people think they know all there is to know about women’s history and so they tend to ignore anyone who tries to teach them anything new about it. But there is always something new to learn about what women have done in the world.  So why isn’t more attention paid to it?

There are two schools of thought which lead to the ignoring of women’s history:

1) People don’t believe that women are capable of great things, or at least of great things in the outside world (which is also considered to be the man’s world); and

2) People (especially men) feel threatened by accomplished women and so seek to downplay their contributions.

The first school is the more laughable, but it’s a mistake to not take it seriously. There really are people out there who don’t think women have what it takes to be a doctor, president, CEO, engineer, etc. They believe that their minds are too illogical, their emotions too unstable and their priorities skewed toward inconsequential things (children, marriage, the home). And, sadly, it is not only men who think this way. Plenty of women limit their choices in life because they, too, believe that they don’t have what it takes to compete in a “man’s” world.

This kind of self-sabotage can be subtle. A woman may go after a career, but only one she feels is appropriate for a woman (nurse instead of doctor, flight attendant instead of pilot, secretary instead of salesperson, and so on). But what is even worse, and not that uncommon, is when a girl grows up thinking that she can’t have a career at all. When she sees her options as limited to the home merely because she is female.

The second school of thought is where the worst excesses of patriarchy come from. The bottom line of this school is that women must be kept in their places. It is all about power and control. Whoever has power wants to keep it, and the best way to do that is to control those who might usurp it. (See my post, “Under His Thumb: Men’s Attempts to Control Women.”)

Some people pooh-pooh the whole idea of the patriarchy because they refuse to believe that men systematically choose to keep women down. While it is true that some men deliberately and consciously seek to do so, subconscious motivations need to be examined as well. I think a lot of the worst examples of patriarchal behavior (refusing to acknowledge that a woman might be as good as or , God forbid, better than you are, controlling the money, making all the decisions, committing violence against women) come from deep-seated insecurities. If you lack self-confidence, the fastest way to gain some is to put someone down who you perceive as lesser than you are. Which also means that you have to perpetrate the notion that that person is indeed lesser.

That’s why it’s so critical for feminists to look after not only the self-esteem of women, but also the self-esteem of men. We need to raise our girls and boys to feel good about themselves for the right reasons: because they are kind and compassionate, generous and loving, tolerant and fair.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

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