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
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.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
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
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
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