"I am going to be teaching all you boys and girls about the 'White-Christian-Male History of the World.'" This is usually how I introduce my class to my freshmen students, year after year. Many times, they often stare at me with perplexed looks on their faces until one of my students finally, out of sheer curiosity, raises their hand and asks me what I mean by that statement. This question then allows me to launch into my true introduction, where I explain to my students what "history" actually is, who writes it and why so many groups seem to be nearly invisible in most high school textbooks. Recently, I wrote an article about how the limited representation of various minority groups in school textbooks indirectly teaches our children to be sexist, racist and even prejudiced. However, for this post, I am going to focus on women in particular.
March is Women's History Month and, like Black History Month, it was intended to expose Americans to the history of a group that, for centuries, was barely visible in most historical records and texts. Like Black History Month, I fear that one month is not nearly enough for an incredibly deserving group of people who are as rich and significant in history as every other group. I wish it could be eliminated entirely and, instead, school books should be revised to include more significant female figures that are more than deserving of their places in history throughout the entire textbook and curriculum. I promise you that I do not have an agenda, nor am I an advocate for extreme political correctness; I just want to "teach the truth" and give just dues to all those who have helped mold and influence history but, for some reason, are nearly invisible in our history books due to their race, religion, sexuality and especially, gender.
Over my years of historical study, I have come to a few certainties. First, history is the struggle of mankind against mankind, for the betterment of mankind. Secondly, it will be up to womankind to save mankind from mankind. Third, history seems to consist of men wounding the world and women healing the world's wounds and lastly, that all rights that are given by God are often taken by man.
I am a feminist for many reasons and my idea of feminism does not involve women acting or becoming like men. I actually support the double standard, because I can't imagine a world where women lower themselves to our standard. It does, however, involve the fair and equal treatment of women in all arenas, especially when it comes to their equal representation in historical texts. By limiting and even undermining the representation of women and their roles throughout history, male students are given the impression that women have played a very minimal role in history and, when they were present, functioned only in very female-oriented fields, such as seamstress (Betsy Ross) or nurse (Clara Barton). We rarely portray women working in fields or performing tasks that are very masculine (with the exception of Rosie the Riveter). There are so many amazing and deserving women who have changed and influenced history, but are not even acknowledged or identified. Deborah Sampson is a perfect example of one such woman who contributed more to the American Revolution than many other women, and even some men, that have earned a place in school books, and yet she is rarely acknowledged.
The minimal representation of women in textbooks also has an adverse effect on female students. Just as it gives boys the impression that women have had little influence on history, it gives girls the very same impression and, indirectly, teaches gender inferiority. Girls can benefit so much in history class if they are given more female figures to whom they can relate; it will give them a sense of empowerment, and allow them to pursue various fields that they previously might have felt were untouchable merely because of their gender. The only group who should learn about women's history more than women are men. We have truly come to a point in history where we should begin to address the fact that celebrating a group for only one month out of the year is not enough. It is not nearly as effective as eliminating the month completely and, instead, incorporating those very groups into textbooks so they can be taught throughout the entire year.
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