Feminism Friday: Rewrite the Story

I finally got round to watching Miss Representation a couple of weeks ago and it’s really excellent. I can’t say I enjoyed it, because it’s infuriating, but it’s well worth a watch. (And it’s on Netflix, if you’ve got it.)

I’m very much looking forward to The Mask You Live In, the new film – about masculinity this time – from the same people, and their new promo video is good too.

Feminism Friday: Herstory

Yes, I know the “his” in history is nothing to do with men. And the first time I heard the word “herstory” I thought it was one of those “political correctness gone mad” things* but the fact is that the history that we are taught is male-centred. (*Whenever anyone says “political correctness gone mad” Richard Littlejohn does a bit of excitement-wee.)

I read a while ago that the actress Hedy Lamarr invented the technology that we use for bluetooth and wifi. We went on a boat tour in London last week and learned that women built Waterloo Bridge. And then I read yesterday that women “invented all the core technologies that made civilization possible.”

But I knew that, I learned that at school. Oh wait no I bloody didn’t.

I read the above quote on Cory Doctorow’s tumblr (tweeted by Sam Baker) and I urge you to read the full thing. So much so that I’m posting it below to make it easier. But the quote comes from this  post – Patriarchy in action: the New York Times rewrites history – by Dr Violet Socks and I urge you to read all of that post too. (Remember the Miss Rep How the Media Failed Women in 2013 video? Remember the guy who said “women just haven’t done much”?)

“Women invented all the core technologies that made civilization possible. This isn’t some feminist myth; it’s what modern anthropologists believe. Women are thought to have invented pottery, basketmaking, weaving, textiles, horticulture, and agriculture. That’s right: without women’s inventions, we wouldn’t be able to carry things or store things or tie things up or go fishing or hunt with nets or haft a blade or wear clothes or grow our food or live in permanent settlements. Suck on that.

Women have continued to be involved in the creation and advancement of civilization throughout history, whether you know it or not. Pick anything—a technology, a science, an art form, a school of thought—and start digging into the background. You’ll find women there, I guarantee, making critical contributions and often inventing the damn shit in the first place.

Women have made those contributions in spite of astonishing hurdles. Hurdles like not being allowed to go to school. Hurdles like not being allowed to work in an office with men, or join a professional society, or walk on the street, or own property. Example: look up Lise Meitner some time. When she was born in 1878 it was illegal in Austria for girls to attend school past the age of 13. Once the laws finally eased up and she could go to university, she wasn’t allowed to study with the men. Then she got a research post but wasn’t allowed to use the lab on account of girl cooties. Her whole life was like this, but she still managed to discover nuclear fucking fission. Then the Nobel committee gave the prize to her junior male colleague and ignored her existence completely.

Men in all patriarchal civilizations, including ours, have worked to downplay or deny women’s creative contributions. That’s because patriarchy is founded on the belief that women are breeding stock and men are the only people who can think. The easiest way for men to erase women’s contributions is to simply ignore that they happened. Because when you ignore something, it gets forgotten. People in the next generation don’t hear about it, and so they grow up thinking that no women have ever done anything. And then when women in their generation do stuff, they think ‘it’s a fluke, never happened before in the history of the world, ignore it.’ And so they ignore it, and it gets forgotten. And on and on and on. The New York Times article is a perfect illustration of this principle in action.

Finally, and this is important: even those women who weren’t inventors and intellectuals, even those women who really did spend all their lives doing stereotypical “women’s work”—they also built this world. The mundane labor of life is what makes everything else possible. Before you can have scientists and engineers and artists, you have to have a whole bunch of people (and it’s usually women) to hold down the basics: to grow and harvest and cook the food, to provide clothes and shelter, to fetch the firewood and the water, to nurture and nurse, to tend and teach. Every single scrap of civilized inventing and dreaming and thinking rides on top of that foundation. Never forget that.”

Feminism Friday: Why can’t periods be private?

You’ve all seen the ‘vagina knitting’ woman, right? Or if you haven’t seen it, you’ve heard about it? (If not, you can read all about it – including the response – here.) But that’s not really what I want to talk about.

When a friend posted it on Facebook, she tagged me in, asking what I thought. (Three friends sent it to me, in fact. Should I be concerned that they all saw ‘vagina knitting’ and thought of me?!) A discussion ensued, during which I mentioned that I thought demystifying periods was important and my friend asked why. Why does it need to be demystified? Why can’t it be private?

My feeling is that we’re not taught so much to be “private” as we are to be ashamed. I was told never to mention periods in front of boys. A friend told me about buying tampons and the (female) shop assistant put a newspaper down on top and whispered, “There’s a man behind you, love.” I read this quote from Stevie Nicks on Rainbow Rowell’s tumblr a while ago:

The world teaches you that the way you exist in it is disgusting — you watch boys cringe backward in your dorm room when you talk about your period, blue water pretending to be blood in a maxi pad commercial. It is little things, and it is constant. In a food court in a mall, after you go to the gynecologist for the first time, you and your friend talk about how much it hurts, and over her shoulder you watch two boys your age turn to look at you and wrinkle their noses: the reality of your life is impolite to talk about.

But that’s not really what I want to talk about either.

The other day on Twitter, I read this from @allthepie: “I was reading recently that discussion of 3rd world sanitation ignores the gender inequality crossover whereby girls are forced to give up school [because] there aren’t facilities for menstruation. How this can be ignored as a social/health issue?”

Girls are forced to give up school because there aren’t facilities for menstruation. 

When I read that, my eyes filled with tears, but then I had another, stranger, reaction – I felt like an electric shock ran right through my body from the top of my head to my toes and it left me almost vibrating. With grief. And anger. And shame.

I went on to read this on WaterAid’s Gender Aspects of Water and Sanitation:

Girls who have reached menstrual age may also be deterred from school by inadequate sanitation in public places. Simple measures, such as providing schools with water and latrines, and promotion hygiene education in the classroom, can enable girls to get an education, especially after they reach puberty, and reduce health-related risks for all. WaterAid Bangladesh found that a school sanitation project with separate facilities for boys and girls helped boost girls’ school attendance 11 per cent per year, on average, from 1992 to 1999.

And I read Jamuna’s Story on Just A Drop.

12 year old Jamuna is from Parumpai Kandikai Village in India. Each month, she – along with 350 million other women – feels ashamed, uncomfortable and unsafe.

This is because in India, menstruation is cloaked in secrecy, negativity and stigma. This taboo inflicts indignity upon millions of girls such as Jamuna, leaving them isolated and insecure. Furthermore, with even more serious consequences, the grave lack of toilet facilities can force menstruating girls out of school, temporarily and sometimes permanently. In fact, 23% of Indian girls leave school altogether when they begin to menstruate.

This is why it needs to be demystified. This is why it can’t be private. This.

Feminism Friday: Joss Whedon on the word ‘feminist’

I know, I know, I keep posting videos instead of, you know, writing stuff. But in my defence, a) there are some fantastic videos doing the rounds lately, videos I think everyone should watch, and b) I’m really busy. Sorry.

You should also read the post about the above video on Jezebel. My favourite bits from the Jezebel post:

You can of course say you’re not a feminist! You can say you’re not a feminist because you don’t like the movement and how it’s been isolating to women of color, or because you think women shouldn’t have to be asked if they are feminists. But don’t say you’re not a feminist because of things that are inherently not true about what word means…

Don’t imply that the word itself means women who don’t like men. Don’t say you don’t need it. Don’t say we’re past it. Don’t just say you don’t like labels. It breeds further miseducation about our shared history. And remembering where we came from, the intolerance we live with and that has come before us, is the part that matters. When you say, “I’m not a feminist,” and then rattle off a reasoning that is merely spitting out the groupthink understanding of what the word means, you’re letting yourself down and you’re letting others down.

{via Sarra Manning on Twitter}