Ancient rock mural at Maack Shelter in the Drakensberg Mountains, in Natal, eastern South Africa











































Suppressed Histories Archives: FAQ

How'd you get started doing this?
I began my research in 1970 after finding that professors laughed at the idea of women’s history, treating it as a triviality not worth studying. Everyone “knew” women weren’t important. That was in the days before Women’s Studies and Ethnic Studies revolutionized every field of the humanities and even some of the sciences. I just got tired of seeing women ignored, so few females with daring and panache in the monotonous narrative of all great men, all the time. I wanted to find other stories, women’s achievements and names and images. And once you start digging, they are there.

Where do you get your slides?
The great majority come from books, scholarly journals, magazines, as well as newspapers, and even album covers and postcards. I didn’t go to all those places! Though I have taken photographs in museums, mostly in the U.S. so far.

Why don’t we learn about these women or these cultures?
It’s political. This knowledge threatens current power structures. Conventional thinking insists that women’s status in Western society is the norm, and the best deal for women ever. Even though a much wider range has been documented, there’s a refusal to acknowledge that other social systems exist, or simple ignorance. The picture is much more rich and complex than we have been taught.

You have the South African diviners, ceramic artists in Brazil and Arizona, Sumatran matriarchs, the egalitarian Pueblo societies, and priestesses in every part of the ancient world. Women healers, prophets and poets. Weavers, witches, warriors. Women who disguised themselves as men so they could go to university or practice medicine or join the revolution. And there were many cultures where there was no need for this kind of masquerade for women to hold public power. We don't have the whole story yet -- we're in remedial history, making up for the omissions and distortions. Information is still coming in from sources not heard from before.

What about men?
Men also gain from re-examining the cultural record with an open mind. They are not congenital oppressors; patriarchal systems are cultural constructs, historical developments, and not universal. Men and patriarchy are not equivalent categories, even if it seems like that in our society. And non-dominant men get chewed up in patriarchal societies, too, even with whatever degree of privilege they exert in relation to the women of their families and communities. It kills the spirit.

We need to know about men who support egalitarian culture, like the Tuareg in the Sahara and the Mosuo in Yunnan, China. Iroquois men defended women’s rights to the American colonists a couple of centuries ago. One told Governor Clinton of New York: "Our ancestors considered it great offense to reject the counsels of their women, particularly of the Female Governesses. They were esteemed the mistresses of the soil." Historian Barbara Mann has documented how shocked Iroquois men were at the levels of rape and wife-beating in settler society. In our time, too, this violence against women is epidemic and normalized, but it is important to understand that this is cultural, not immutable biology.

Other human models exist! But you don’t learn about them in textbooks, which concentrate on the great empires, the most ranked and unequal societies. You have to go to the oral tradition, indigenous histories, not just the dynastic chronicles. This does not mean romanticizing or oversimplifying. But after being told for so long that women are inferior, that the cultures of aboriginal people are lesser, that Africans are primitive, a shift in thinking is a right and necessary corrective. We have catching up to do on the realities, the strengths of those groups as well as information on how they've been wronged and kept down.

Is the Archives open to the public?
That is the long-range goal. At this point, the funding is simply not there for a public space. It's a struggle as it is to keep up with basic expenses and equipment. The Archives doesn't even have a slide scanner. We have barely begun the process of cataloguing the collection into a database, which is the first step toward making the information and the images searchable so that researchers can access them.

For now, the information is accessible through visual presentations, the Suppressed Histories web site, and by private consultation. But we are now fundraising to begin publishing books. The first one will be about the egalitarian matrix societies, followed by several volumes of The Secret History of the Witches, on European folk religion and the sexual politics of the witch hunts. There is a hunger for this material, so I feel a great urgency about founding an imprint which will publish books on women’s history, indigenous studies, and religious liberty.

Patriarchy: a social system based on male dominance, with a sexual double standard used to maintain inheritance in the male line. It includes domination of some males by others, especially through social class and militarism, and authoritarian values.
Matriarchy: no system of female domination has ever been found, but looking for that is missing the point. A number of egalitarian indigenous cultures survive, which are matrilineal (trace descent through the mother) and matrilocal (couples live with the woman’s kin). I call these matrix cultures, because "matriarchy" implies parallelism with "patriarchy," as if it simply inverted the dominance relations. Matrix, though it connotes the womb and mother-right culture, places emphasis on the entire life support network, to which men also belong.
Egalitarian: a social system without hierarchies based on gender, class or ethnicity.
Indigenous: description for a people who have lived in a place for as long as anyone can remember; an aboriginal culture; a native people, not usually associated with colonial states or industrialized economies.
Shaman: spiritual person with the ability to enter deep states of awareness and thus access healing power, supernormal perception, communion with ancestors or deities, influence the weather, psychokinesis, and similar feats.


For more on these subjects, see the Machete Interview.

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