Re-evaluating history from a global perspective centered on women

Women's history is necessarily interdisciplinary, since "standard" sources may offer little or no information about female lives, and what they contain is often frank in its bias. We do need to know those dynastic and colonial histories, because the framework of conquest shapes most of the information we have access to (as it has shaped the realities of countless lives).

But beyond orthodox "History" -- and physically separated from it on library shelves -- exist oral histories and folk traditions with a wealth of information about female leaders and heritages. Tellingly, most of these rich oratures originate in cultures utterly ignored by "mainstream" history, in places like Sumatra, Congo, Brazil, or Ontario. These are not centers of empire but indigenous homelands, many of whose cultures honored and preserved female spheres of power.

Thus sexism and racism can be seen to converge in the silences imposed upon our knowledge of the world. An international women's history questions these divisions and omissions: Why is the history of most of humanity reduced to an incomplete glimpse of the colonial era? Why the deletion of tribal peoples from "history" and the emphasis on them in "anthropology" and "ethnology"? Indigenous histories must be understood on their own terms, and the ongoing realities of land seizure, enslavement and genocide taken into account.

Click to view "Restoring Women to Cultural Memory"
excerpt from Women's Power dvd by Max Dashu

A strong female presence is also visible in archaeology, especially at the oldest levels. In recent years, a war has broken out over how to interpret the neolithic predominance of female iconography. Those citing an array of evidence for egalitarian societies have been accused of fantasizing a "golden age of matriarchy." But this flailing at straw dolls sidesteps more complex analyses based on a growing body of evidence that male domination is not the default cultural setting for humanity.

In any case, theory should take a back seat to fleshing out the long-negated female presences in history. It goes as understood that recovery of this information is remedial -- and provisional. New information is constantly emerging, while we question and reevaluate the "classic" sources. Important bodies of knowledge, especially the long-excluded indigenous oratures, are working their own transformations on History as we know it.

The Suppressed Histories Slide Series aims to make accessible old and new knowledge about women's experiences, achievements, and heritages, in all their complexity.



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