Author: sophyedmunds

Here’s to Michelle

As if it wasn’t bad enough that Donald Trump is becoming the second most powerful man in the world this month (second only to Vladimir Putin), the White House will simultaneously be losing potentially the most inspiring and captivating First Lady it has ever had. Michelle Obama has been the role model that America needs; inspiring women of all backgrounds and ethnicities that anything is possible if you put your mind to it, and not to let anyone hold you back.

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 If I’m ever feeling a bit down, or doubting myself,  or (especially) if I’m pulling an all-nighter, and need motivation to finish an essay, I tend to watch a bit of Michelle to get me back on track.  Not only does she have a law degree from Princeton and Harvard Law School, she’s also launched a campaign, ‘Let’s Move!’ in an attempt to combat childhood obesity, and she’s used her position as a way to encourage girls to pursue the careers they are interested in (‘Let Girls Learn’).

Michelle has also been extremely vocal about being a black woman in America, and the challenges those facing discrimination come up against. On top of all that, Michelle has never been afraid to be herself; she’s even been shopping with Ellen DeGeneres and on Carpool Karaoke with James Corden. Not to mention she’s also raised two kids…

Here are some of my favourite Michelle quotes that will hopefully get you through those exam/ January/ dissertation/ general blues:

1. “I wanted them to understand that the measure of any society is how it treats its women and girls. And I told them that they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and I told them that they should disregard anyone who demeans or devalues them, and that they should make their voices heard in the world”

Talking about meeting young girls in the US and around the world in her New Hampshire Speech Oct 2016.

2.There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish, whether that’s in politics or in other fields.”

Talking about what she tells her daughters in a 2012 speech about the US.

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3. “The women we honour today teach us three very important lessons. One, that as women, we must stand up for ourselves. The second, as women, we must stand up for each other. And finally, as women, we must stand up for justice for all.”

In a speech in 2009 at the Women of Courage Awards.

4. “If had worried about who liked me and who thought I was cute when I was your age, I wouldn’t be married to the president of the United States today… Compete with the boys…Beat the boys.

During a panel session hosted by Glamour in September 2015.

 

So there’s your inspiration and reminder that you can do this. Go slay x

 

Words by Sophy Edmunds
Photos and videos by NY Times, The Late Late Show with James Corden/YouTube, and Let Girls Learn/the White House.

 

Witches Are Feminist As Hell

Whether you’re a historian or not you’ve probably heard of, or at least seen that poster of the women’s war work movement. Rosie Riveter – the ‘We Can Do It’ girl who donned her factory overalls, rolled up her sleeves, and took over work in the factories while the boys went off to France.

Although barely seen during World War Two, the image has become iconic for feminism and its ties to women’s war work; even though many women were forced back into unskilled domestic work once the war was over (Google the “Restoration of Pre-war Practices Acts” – which pushed women out of traditionally ‘male’ areas of work and back into the home to try to ‘restore’ society). Rosie’s image however, has lived on as an inspirational figure for women even today.

Rosie selfie

You’ve probably also heard of Peggy Carter – Marvel’s SSRO (Strategic Scientific Reserve Officer). Instead of being the classic and cliché damsel in distress, Agent Carter is a tough, no-nonsense, trained combatant with a series of successful missions under her belt. If you haven’t heard of Rosie or Peggy, you might have seen one of the BBC Dramas such as ‘Land Girls’, ‘The Crimson Field’ or similar series such as ‘Anzac Girls’ which focus on women’s achievements and participation in both World Wars. (I love a period drama so if you haven’t seen Anzac girls, it’s fabulous and I highly recommend it).

http://www.seattletimes.com/entertainment/tv/the-list-australian-tv-series-we-love/

There’s been a small but gradually increasing presence of women’s war efforts in film and media with the discussion around women’s involvement in the military still continuing today. The British government is currently in the process of attempting to lift the ban on women fighting in close combat roles, yet in the past they have been notorious for struggling to understand the concept of women being fully involved in combat. It wasn’t until the 1980s that women were actually allowed to operate and handle rifles. All because the combination of a vagina and a deadly weapon made some people a little too uncomfortable. The idea of women being anything other than gentle, loving, nurturing, and pushing the boundaries of femininity was clearly too much handle.

I study History at university and it wasn’t until I started it that I realised that the way I have always been taught history is incredibly Anglocentric, which means that as a young girl, I was only ever seeing British women in military positions (if we even learnt about them at all). However, there are thousands of women from other countries who deserve to be mentioned in the history books because of the way in which they defied limitations and stereotypes.

Taking a step away from the traditional Anglocentric history of war, we can look at other countries that had a multitude of women who I think it’s really important we learn about; as they can be just as inspiring. Cue the Night Witches.

http://elinorflorence.com/blog/night-witches

In the midst of World War Two, Soviet Russia gives us one of the best examples of women who overcame second-hand equipment, limited training and using nothing but wooden planes, the cover of darkness and their sheer bravery to succeed in precision bombing missions. These all-female regiments became some of the most highly decorated units in history, flying over 25,000 missions. They became known as the ‘Night Witches’ – a nickname given to them by German soldiers who were so scared of them, that the Kaiser promised an Iron Cross to any soldier who shot them down. The ladies who flew these missions would cut their engines, glide to the bomb release point and then restart the engine at a very low altitude; mimicking the sound of broomsticks (giving the bombers their nickname). All this was done without a parachute, under enemy fire and with crews of just two people.

The Night Witches’ male counterparts had better quality machinery, while the Witches were having to make do with sub-standard hand-me-downs. They were so skilled, brave and accurate that rumours spread through German camps that the Night Witches had been given night-vision pills. I wish such a thing existed (sadly it doesn’t – I’ve checked) but these types of rumours highlight the ability and skill of these amazing women who had to fight a lot harder to reach the same achievements as men.

As women, and thus facing many more social barriers than men, the Night Witches faced an already uphill struggle, yet they still managed to overcome these restrictions. Their skill and bravery put their achievements on the same level as the men who fought on the front lines in World War Two. Finally women could be seen as attackers and defenders instead of the protected; smashing the notions of femininity and what it meant to be “a woman”. Let’s not let them hide in the history books. The Night Witches were feminist as hell.

 

Words by Sophy Edmunds
Images Courtesy of Sophy Edmunds, ABC Television via Seattle Times, and Elinor Florence.

 

Let’s Rewrite History

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 [1], 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’ [2] 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.

 

[1] http://www.nwhp.org/womens-history-month/2016-theme/
[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=156&v=Y6CtHk4dzfY

Words by Sophy Edmunds.