History Repeats Itself...So does Women's History
In my history class on a cold January morning, my teacher reviewed the Constitutional Convention and the basis of the electoral college, for the third time. "Who did the Convention want to control the government?" he asked. Someone gave the rote response he had told us previously, "Rich, white, male property owners." "Exactly," he responded, "they were trying to keep power away from the common man, they feared he would make poor decisions." But our teacher never mentioned women. Why did men not want women in government? Given, we will probably cover a section on Women's Suffrage, but that will be one section covering the lives of 50% of the population over 100 years. We are nearly ignoring 50% of what happened in history.
Men seem to be considered the "norm,” by society. When asked to draw a stick figure, we draw a man, we use male pronouns to refer to unknown professionals, and dogs are known as “man’s best friend.” Consequently, we are often less attentive to women’s issues. History classes give credence to this. We learn almost entirely about men. Yes, men have made the most impacts on our government, but they also have made conscious decisions to exclude women, and we never learn about it. The erasure of women's history is problematic- we can't fully account for the problems of our present if we don't recognize how they came about. Furthermore, we can't fully include women until people recognize that women have been here for all of history.
Take, for example, the exclusion of women from politics. We usually presume this was because men cast a vote for the entire family. Because this was a family function, in 1776 unmarried women in New Jersey who owned property were granted the right to vote. In 1869, William Bright, president of the upper house of the Wyoming territory, allowed women over 21 to vote. Why were they being so generous? Well, on the frontier, men outnumbered women six-to-one. They wanted to attract single women to their territory to correct the gender imbalance. At the same time, many states did not allow women to vote until 1920. They were insistent on women getting married, and felt it was only appropriate to exclude them from voting. State legislatures only allowed women rights and privileges when it benefit the men in the state. This reflects a very important issue today: politicians only vouch for women when it helps grow their support base. But we rarely learn this history lesson in school.
That day my history teacher posed the question of whether the electoral college gives enough power to common people. But we never discussed in the same depth whether women may be silenced today just as they were in the past.
Men are currently considered the "norm." We learn about their issues in history, because, "history repeats itself." But, women's history also repeats itself. And if no one is educated, they will never understand the traditional biases that led us to think the way we do about women. They will never know that politicians may not be genuine in their support for women, that men used to fear women having power in government, and that people in the past also thought "men and women are already equal." Until we stop erasing women from history, we will be stuck in a repetition of history.
The Bipartisan Feminist Project is dedicated to informing student’s on the history of women’s issues and opening discussions about feminism so all people can be heard. But teachers and schools can also play a vital role in achieving this goal, by giving women a proper place in their curricula.