This might be dramatic, but in year 8 I had a science lesson that completely changed the way I perceived women in history, and it wasn’t because I was learning about breakthroughs they made in science. In fact it was the complete opposite; we were learning about Robert Hooke and the development of the microscope. We sat there as the teacher recited name after name of people who had contributed to this revolutionary leap in science. Surprisingly enough, there was not one woman on that list. All this happened whilst being taught by a woman with a doctorate. In an all-girls grammar school. Surrounded by girls. I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know any boys at this stage. Now don’t get me wrong I loved biology and from what I remember, I wanted to be a Doctor until I remembered I hated hospitals. Clearly though, this lesson wasn’t interesting me and my mind wandered:
“Where the hell are all the women?!”
I think that was the first time I was confused about the lack of teaching surrounding female presence in the past (I’m talking how is this genuinely possible type confusion). I’m now two years into a history degree and I feel it’s safe to say that women have done equally as much, and been just as bad-ass, as the great men of the past. Women have always been and continue to be leaders, protagonists, villains, geniuses and technological innovators. Just look at Boudicca, Josephine Butler, Jhani Lakshmi Bai, Claudette Colvin, Parisa Tabriz, even the Queen herself (I mean Beyoncé in this case, but Her Majesty is pretty cool too).
So now here comes my inner history geek. Through my degree and my love of all things old, I’ve realised that history has been written in a way that has restricted women to their limitations instead of celebrating their achievements to the same level as men. Women are so often thought of as underachieving and less important, meaning children grow up assuming that women don’t do anything exceptional.
Yes, to some level, women have been restricted by the lack of opportunities available to them. They lived in a world that was designed to punish and diminish them at the advantage of men. Societies believed women had a finite amount of energy that, if spent on education would damage the quality of babies; they thought women were too emotional to be able to understand ‘rational’ and ‘logical’ things such as science or speaking in political terms; they thought women should be confined to the home and that they were ‘ruled’ by their wombs.
Men did not have these kind of limitations imposed on them yet women who did, defied them, only to get less recognition. They have broken boundaries and outshone men in multiple areas but their achievements have so often and carelessly been shadowed by men. I’m not saying men haven’t achieved things either, of course they have, but the issue here is that you have to look that little bit harder and really fight for the inclusion of women’s accomplishments to the same level as men’s.
There are some really fantastic projects already starting to do this by raising awareness of the subordination of women in history. The National Women’s History Project , although centred on Americans, is currently promoting the work of women in public service and governmental positions. Online forum ‘Gadgette’ has recently run an article on Feminist Frequency’s upcoming ‘Ordinary Women’  project which is hoping to challenge the ways in which women are portrayed in the media, (including period dramas) and how this affects public stereotypes. The project wants to help us re-imagine and re-write history so that women are included, and those that have defied expectations become written and spoken about in the same casual capacity as men. This isn’t to say that we should reduce the value of women’s achievements, but that we should be bringing their achievements into everyday conversation, just as men’s are.
That’s what I want to do with this series. I want to show you there are women that were just as cool as men, and you didn’t really need to spend your year 8 science lessons wondering where all the women are. They’re there. They’re just hidden.
Let’s not let women go unnoticed and let’s start talking about the great things they’ve done, because that’s how we make people aware and actually start to change things, isn’t it? That’s how we bring the great women of the past into people’s everyday lives and make them and their accomplishments household names. Children can grow up seeing historical figures as men and women and be inspired by the likes of both. So sit back, have a cup of coffee (and if you’re like me, about three slices of cake) and lets rewrite history.
Words by Sophy Edmunds.