I'm a Historian, and I Think Women's History Month Is a MistakeHistorians in the News
tags: womens history, Womens History Month, Nancy Goldstone
For more than three decades, March has been designated as Women’s History Month. You would think that a historian like me, who has devoted 15 years to trying to win recognition for the many female sovereigns whose achievements and influence have been grievously overlooked, would be heartened by this attempt to combat the prejudices of the past. But I am not happy about Women’s History Month. I think it is a mistake, just as I think having a separate Women’s Studies curriculum or building a National Women’s History Museum in Washington, D.C., is a mistake.
It’s not that I think feminine accomplishments should be ignored, that students should not be required to study and learn about them. But by allowing women to be shunted off to the side in this way — for no matter how impressive the academic department, or how large the museum, or how many previously unknown females are highlighted in the month of March, that is what we are doing — we ensure that women remain a subset of history rather than integral components of recognized major events.
In my field in particular — European history — the almost complete exclusion of female leadership from survey courses has ingrained in the general population the idea that (with the possible exception of Elizabeth I and now, thanks to PBS and Netflix, Victoria and Elizabeth II as well), women played no role in the momentous wars and political intrigues that are ticked off one by one in the average Western Civilization lecture series. This casual diminishing of half the population has led to all sorts of ludicrous explanations for pivotal episodes, one of the most droll being that angels led Joan of Arc to the court of the hapless dauphin, Charles VII. In fact, it was Yolande of Aragon, queen of Sicily, the dauphin’s mother-in-law and one of the most competent and effective politicians in world history, who was responsible for recruiting Joan of Arc, just as it was Yolande who financed and organized the army that relieved the siege of Orléans, universally recognized as the turning point in the Hundred Years’ War. Yet when this period is covered in high schools and colleges, you won’t find any of this on the syllabus. ...
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