July
25th 2009
Feminism and whig history: why are we always fooled again?

Posted under: Gender, women's history

wig

The whig of illusory progress!

Echidne has an interesting post about the history of the moon shot, “Reaching for the Moon,” in which she calls out the erasure of women from history even by purported “feminist” allies.  The specific occasion for her post was an article by Paul Campos, in which he boasted whiggishly, “One measure of how much has changed in the last 40 years is that the very idea of a woman astronaut in the 1960s would have seemed outlandish to most Americans (that the Russians had a female cosmonaut was widely interpreted as a preposterous publicity stunt).”

She responds that on the one hand, women’s participation was fixed within rigid limits, but that they were in fact part of the Apollo project all along:  “the absence of women astronauts in the program has a much more concrete reason: They were excluded from it. Books have been written about that: Margaret A. Weitekamp’s Right Stuff, Wrong Sexand Stephanie Nolen’s Promised The Moon.  And there were women involved with the project itself as described by Robyn C. Friend in The Women of Apollo.”

Echidne then muses, “I’m not sure why women’s history appears to evaporate the way it does.”  Well, here’s a theory:  it evaporates because the culture has a stake in erasing women from history and denying that their participation or leadership ever mattered.  Even trained women’s historians like me find ourselves making “discoveries” that were themselves re-discovered already sometime in the past two or three hundred years, but which were again forgotten and buried, because the historiography of the twentieth century didn’t take seriously the work by nineteenth-century women historians, and wrote them all off as antiquarians or amateur hobbyists.

And, too, even present-day feminist scholars have a stake in believing the soothing (and usually illusory) promise embedded in the whig narrative that Campos trotted out:  “unlike the bad old days, things are so much better for women now!”  It’s just too depressing to think that we aren’t in fact better off than previous generations, and we can’t stand to think that there’s no point whatsoever in our work.  So we too collaborate in the erasure of women’s history, even as we claim to be building a permanent edifice.  But, modernity is all about progress, all about the power of human beings to shape their environment limitlessly.  In other words, modernity is a guy thing:  no girls allowed, and even if a few of them sneak into the clubhouse, we’ll make sure their activities go down the memory hole.

 

“I was convinced that some day I was going to be an astronaut.”  Engineer and Apollo project team member Ann Dickson.

36 Comments »

36 Responses to “Feminism and whig history: why are we always fooled again?”

  1. squadratomagico on 25 Jul 2009 at 8:48 am #

    Great post! I’ve seen the exact.same.thing. There was a handful of excellent women historians of medieval women working in the late 19C-. I’m not sure what kind of formal academic training these authors had, but their work was undeniably solid: rooted in original sources and documents, well-scaffolded arguments, etc. But 120 years later, many of their innovations are still innovative — because their discoveries and ideas have been completely sidelined.

  2. GayProf on 25 Jul 2009 at 9:38 am #

    It is interesting that people aren’t willing to consider that things might be worse off now than they were ten years ago.

  3. Lilian Nattel on 25 Jul 2009 at 9:40 am #

    I see in history cycles of progress and reaction. The post-war conservatism in relation to gender and the post-70′s conservatism in relation to class followed cycles of expansion and progress. During the periods of reaction a lot is lost, not only in the scholarship of women but in common views about class. The question is whether these cycles always begin in the same place again or whether there is some progress. I do think there is progress because I see changes in women’s longevity for example, and in the legality of domestic violence and child abuse that have endured through the reaction.

  4. Notorious Ph.D. on 25 Jul 2009 at 10:31 am #

    I’m 100% with you on the purposes of erasing women’s positive participation in historical processes — that it allows us to pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves for coming a long way, baby. The same happens, unfortunately, when we focus on injustices against women in other countries — there are injustices, but we also end up patting ourselves on the back for being more civilized than those “backward” places.** The ugly underbelly of the self-congratulatory impulse is, of course, lethal complacency.

    **Last spring, I heard a presentation made by a young woman on a Fulbright-ish thing from Krghyztan. She was presenting on the current situation of Krghyz women, and lamented that, “Women constitute well over half the population, but make up only 27% of the members of the national assembly.” So much for progressive us.

  5. Susan on 25 Jul 2009 at 10:34 am #

    Great post. In relation to Squadrato’s point, it seems to me that there are two things at play in thosewomen historians from c. 1880 to 1930 or so: the first wave of women with formal educations AND the first wave feminist movement. But I still think if you’re going to talk about work in 17th C England, you wrestle, in one way or another, with Alice Clark. And I’m sure other fields have their women who help us think.

    Also, because some of these women were self-educated, they often came at things in different ways than the men who’d all gone through the same system. And guess what? They saw different things. Those things, of course, still sidelined.

    What’s depressing is seeing us go into another period of reaction…

  6. Indyanna on 25 Jul 2009 at 10:40 am #

    Women still don’t fly in anything like their proportion of the population at large, or I’d guess like their proportion of the technical communities that make up the (currently) plausible pools for recruiting astronauts. And, of course, the ways that the agency sees fit to define the work up there are almost always all technical. Except when they want a teacher-in-space or something like that.

    I’m not so sure the early ’60s cosmonette thing was purely a publicity stunt, except to the extent that everything during Cold War was a kind of publicity stunt. In the 1950s and ’60s Soviet medicine was in some respects considerably more advanced than the western brand, technically and operationally, and there was a far higher proportion of women MDs, I think, even at the higher levels of practice, than you would find in the U.S. A society that lost, what was it, 20 million men during WWII?, sort of had to think differently about human resource demographics, whatever the ideological defects of the post-Stalin Soviet state.

    Are things better now than in 1959? Doubtless, but where are the benchmarks?

  7. Indyanna on 25 Jul 2009 at 10:43 am #

    p.s. When I say “women don’t fly” I mean “NASA doesn’t fly them,” not an observation on the gendered demographics of the aeronautical community at large, of which I know not.

  8. Gavin on 25 Jul 2009 at 10:51 am #

    I never liked Whig history, but since I got interested in women’s history and feminism I like it even less. Narratives of inevitable progress imply that since each step of progress had to happen at the time it happened, it couldn’t have happened any earlier. That contributes to the false neutrality of accepting oppression because “that’s just how it was”.

    In my most recent post I mentioned William Prynne, who was a hero of the Whig narrative for suffering terrible punishments in the name of progress. But they gave us a sanitised version of Prynne which implied that he was a secular free-speech advocate by airbrushing out his misogyny and religious bigotry. Although Whigs loved the idea of a Puritan Revolution they tended to be a bit vague on the uncomfortably illiberal details of puritanism.

    Amy Johnson is my favourite example of how women get excluded. She was clearly one of the best pilots in Britain, but during the Battle of Britain when we desperately needed good pilots, she wasn’t given the choice of flying combat missions. She had to work as a ferry pilot instead, which was probably a waste of her talent. But that’s “just how it was in those days”. And anyway, “everyone knows” that women just weren’t strong enough to fly planes.

    It’s interesting that the Soviet Union had female soldiers and female combat pilots as well as female astronauts. Even Joshua Goldstein argued that they mostly only let women fight in emergencies, but I’m not entirely convinced that war, gender and the link between them are quite as universal as he suggested. In any case it shows that the Soviets had different views of gender from the West, and that things didn’t have to be like that in either case.

  9. LadyProf on 25 Jul 2009 at 11:14 am #

    Paul Campos got his head handed to him on the Apostate and I Blame the Patriarchy blogs, but I think he’d respect what you’re saying more, Historiann. Please, somebody send him a link.

  10. Historiann on 25 Jul 2009 at 12:32 pm #

    Oops–my bad, LadyProf. I didn’t realize that Paul’s post wasn’t embedded in the stuff I quoted from Echidne. I’ve linked to it now, so if he cares to take a look he can.

    Thanks for all of your thoughts on this. I like Notorious’s suggestion that the whiggish belief in “progress” cuts across space as well as time. It’s a time-honored tactic of antifeminists everywhere to say, “well, you American women don’t get acid thrown in your face on your way to school, so you don’t have anything to b!tch about! And why don’t you talk about Afghan women, anyway, you whiny ingrates?” Funny, that–the only people who were talking about the Taliban before 9/11/2001 were feminists who were deeply alarmed by the restrictions on human rights imposed by the Taliban. But as Notorious notes, there are lots of us feminist women who look around the globe and feel pretty smug and relieved.

    In our thread last month about cosmetic surgery, commenter wackadoodle noted the eagerness of American feminists to condemn FGM/female circumcision in some African traditions, but that they haven’t developed as much passion/outrage about cosmetic surgery in the U.S. To what extent is this due to a modernist belief that *our* surgeries are elective, are about “empowerment” for women and enhancing their sexual pleasures, and are sleek, sterile, and technologically advanced, versus the dirty, backwards, anti-sexual nature of FGM.

  11. Historiann on 25 Jul 2009 at 12:46 pm #

    And I also really like Gavin’s point: “Narratives of inevitable progress imply that since each step of progress had to happen at the time it happened, it couldn’t have happened any earlier. That contributes to the false neutrality of accepting oppression because ‘that’s just how it was.’”

    Excellent point about the lazy, “just-so” nature of the whig narrative. So the U.S. or Britain couldn’t possibly have abolished slavery one year earlier? So the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the 1880s? Boy, we’re sure eager to let historical actors off the hook for their complacency, aren’t we? (I suppose we don’t want to think that people in the future will see us as complacent about the injustices of our time.)

    Finally–I think GayProf’s point about how we’re unwilling to contemplate regress is a great one. Something that I think has changed dramatically in the past 10-15 years is the way in which rape is discussed in the media, and how rape is even harder to prosecute now because of the effects of a few high-profile rape cases in the 1990s and 2000s. No one anywhere (that I have seen so far) has commented on how rape victims–yes, people who have reported a rape and whom the D.A. have found credible and so are pursuing criminal charges–are now called “accusers” instead of “victims” or even “alleged victims.” Never mind that rape victims can’t prosecute their attackers unless a massive judicial system decides to make it happen. They’re just “accusers” now, which makes them sound like they’re whiny complainers without any grounds for complaint.

    I date this shift to the Kobe Bryant rape prosecution in 2003-04 (which was dropped, because sports fan jackals tracked down the victim and made her life a living hell.) But, I also think the William Kennedy Smith “Palm beach” rape trial back in 1991 was also a part of this movement in which privileged and connected men were able to exert such influence on the judicial system that it’s changed the way we think about rape. I also think Anita Hill’s appearance during Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings pushed the needle backwards when it comes to evaluating women’s consent in sexual encounters.

  12. Historiann on 25 Jul 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Oh, and you regular readers: I really like that “Whig of Illusory Progress” photo above. You’ll be seeing me bestow that award on other writers and commentators in the near future! Be sure to send me links you think might deserve the Whiggy.

  13. Vance Maverick on 25 Jul 2009 at 2:00 pm #

    Yes, things can get worse. In my own academic field, computer science, there are even fewer women undergraduates than there were 20 years ago.

  14. Feminist Avatar on 25 Jul 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    It is also interesting that whent the first ‘whig’ histories were written in the eighteenth century by the enlightenment crew (Smith, Miller, William somebody?) that while men progressed from barbarity to civilisation, women were always the same. They were innately good and held a civilising influence. It was just that civilised men recognised their innate goodness and allowed it to flourish unlike the barbarians who quashed it. From the outset, women have had no history- they are static, and forever unchanging. It is only men who progress.

  15. Digger on 25 Jul 2009 at 2:35 pm #

    Not long ago I read Mary Daly’s Gyn/Ecology, with the understanding/expectation that it was an historical document. And I finished it, absolutely furious (Fury-ous, heh). Because, though some of the specifics she wrote about have changed for the positive, the underlying bullsh!t, manipulation, twisting of words, forgetting, structural violence, patriarchy — they are still there. They may look and sound a little different, but they’re still there.

    I come back again and again to Judith Bennett’s idea of patriarchal equilibrium. She doesn’t mention it directly in her book History Matters, but I think there is a huge dose of structural violence involved in maintaining it. Historiann, your example of shifting rape victims to accusers is one.

  16. jc on 25 Jul 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    To GayProf’s point: the P would have to admit that they are to blame for the current situation of discrimination. They can’t cry “sins of their fathers” anymore.

    I read a brilliant post somewhere that went through who’s rapeable, by narrowing out the people who are not rapeable (it went something like this):
    If you get drunk, you’re not rapeable.
    If you ever said yes, you’re not rapeable.
    If you didn’t say no, you’re not rapeable.
    If you’ve paid for or been paid for sex, you’re not rapeable.
    If you ever had sex, you’re not rapeable.
    If you are married, you’re not rapeable.
    If you walk the street alone, you’re not rapeable.
    If you go out at night, you’re not rapeable.
    If you dance naked, you’re not rapeable.
    If you wear a dress, you’re not rapeable.
    If you are a child, you’re not rapeable.

    Who are the people that are actually raped by rapists? And where are they, the lucky ones who had their rapists convicted and jailed for rape? What’s the evidence that needs to be presented to actually get a conviction? The focus always always always turns to the circumstances and to her character, because hey, she was wearing a low-cut shirt walking to a public parking lot from a bar at night. As is pointed out, even after conviction, the raped are labeled “accusers.”

  17. Historiann on 25 Jul 2009 at 3:26 pm #

    Wow, this thread is turning out to be a total buzzkill. How about some Barbies? Who’s in the mood for some Barbies? Who wants to play Barbies?

    Just kidding.

    Hm.

    Digger, I love your point. I think you’re right about Bennett: she’s a brilliant diagnostician, but she doesn’t describe in detail exactly HOW the disase progresses. (I keep running that “Help, I’m Being Repressed!” scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in my head when Dennis screams about “now we see the violence inherent in the system!”)

  18. tanya on 25 Jul 2009 at 7:44 pm #

    Last January, I did some research at the LBJ Library in Austin. One of the archivists gave me a copy of a letter draft from LBJ’s vice presidency: the draft was meant to be an inquiry for him to send, asking whether there were any women who met the requirements for the space program.

    Instead of approving or editing it, LBJ scrawled across it: “Let’s stop this nonsense right now.”

    That’s what I think of when I think of women and space. Just that letter.

    (Ironically, in 1967, LBJ gave a speech in which he remarked that maybe someday we’d have a female commander-in-chief. I tend to take that as a bit tongue-in-cheek, given this other letter.)

  19. Paul on 25 Jul 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Historiann: Excellent point about the lazy, “just-so” nature of the whig narrative. So the U.S. or Britain couldn’t possibly have abolished slavery one year earlier? So the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the 1880s? Boy, we’re sure eager to let historical actors off the hook for their complacency, aren’t we? (I suppose we don’t want to think that people in the future will see us as complacent about the injustices of our time.)

    I think that’s true of any deterministic view of history – the whig narrative is just the most well-known and pervasive of these views. Not surprisingly, people like me who like to speculate about alternate or counterfactual history are usually not big fans of any kind of deterministic narrative!

    On the other hand, I often find myself reluctant to condemn people in the past too harshly for supporting unjust practices, since even the most prominent historical figures are products of their time and place and background.

  20. Catherine Isadora on 26 Jul 2009 at 6:08 am #

    Hello Historiann, I’ve just recently found your blog and am loving it.

    I have a theory as well regarding women and history which might seem somewhat wacky. I’d have thought so myself if I’d not just spent the psst 13 years on a spiritual journey toward getting in touch with the whole, healthy feminine energy.

    I will be discussing the issues of energy, yin-yang, electromagnetism and how these concepts related to what has played out on our planet since the beginning of the patriarchy on my blog: izzy-serioushumor.blogspot.com

    It’s really a matter of balance. Basically what I have found is that although there has been a type of balance on our planet since the beginning of “history,” with men (in an expression of excessive yang mode) dominating in the public sphere and women relegated to the private sphere; individually we have all been out of balance. As this is the case, and because of us being the building blocks of society, our world, institutions, etc.; are all out of balance.

    The key, I feel, to moving forward for women is a conscious understanding of how energy works, Yin energy (or feminine energy) is expansive and giving. Yang (or masculine energy) is contractive and can be selfish. This scenerio has played out with women generally giving in excess until sometime in midlife; finally women contract with a vengence, usually out of anger due to our core needs never having been met.

    If you invision a seesaw, men are on the ground side, holding women up in the air: men contracting while women expand. That is our energy paradign. When women contract in anger, it is virtually impossible for us to contract to the ground level–that would take up too much energy to be sustainable. Instead our energy contracts to the center or balance point of the seesaw. At this point, female and male energies are in balance. We have seen this energy in motion and equalibrium found and lost repeatedly thoughtout history during times when women ocme together in anger–the various waves of women’s movements. It is virtually impossible to sustain the balance from a perspective of anger. When the anger wanes, we drift back into our unconcious energy mode. What has been missing is “consciousness” of how our energies work. In order for women to balance, we must put ourselves first in all things. Then and only then will we create the energy balance and be able to literally rebalance the world. This concept has been expressed in Taoism which before becoming a religion was merely a system of understanding energy: “if you wish to change the world, you need only to work on changing yourself, once this is done, you will find that is all that is necessary.”

    I am quickly working on getting my insights on the blog and will be writing a book of my experience and observations which I will post in serial installments as I complete each chapter. Thank you.

  21. perpetua on 26 Jul 2009 at 6:42 am #

    I find myself in this funny situation in my women’s history classes (which all center on pre-modern Europe), because I want to get them to stop thinking in terms of “inevitable progress”, so I want them to see the ways in which possibilities for women expand and contract throughout time, place, and context. At the same time, I like to emphasize the complexity of gendered discourse in this period – that it isn’t only overwhelmingly negative and misogynist, but that there was room for movement, play, agency, etc. Sometimes it seems like the metanarrative of the class is Women were Present and Did Things. Then I worry that I’m underplaying or minimizing the patriarchy (especially for students who have a fuzzy conception of this anyway). . .

    I’d also like to jump into the earlier conversation about satisfaction by people in the West about our “progressive” ideas about women’s rights vis-a-vis “barbaric” peoples in undeveloped countries (specifically, Africa and all Islamic regions). This is something that has always made me crazy – one time my FIL went off about an honor killing that recently happened here in North America, citing it as an example of how uncivilized “those people” are. Usually I’m pretty good at biting my tongue around my inlaws but this time I was angry enough to speak out. i said, how many women in North American are murdered by their husbands, boyfriends, exes, and men they know who become obsessed with them *every day*? How many are beaten and fear for their lives? FIL didn’t say anything.

  22. Digger on 26 Jul 2009 at 9:41 am #

    Perpetua, if ALL they get from your class is that Women Were Present and Did Things, then I think they’re getting something valuable. Can you link some of the events you discuss in pre-Modern Europe to situations and events now? Or, a lecture on the whole meta-narrative of change = progress; where it came from, and why we like it (man’s progress towards divinity and all that).

    I have a similar problem teaching physical anthro (it’s not just a problem in history!). It’s not PROGRESS, it’s CHANGE. And sometimes the changes = good, given the circumstances/environment, and there was much rejoicing and survival. Sometimes the changes = bad for the circumstances/environment and species died out. And sometimes, things that were good in one environment became liabilities when the environment changed.

    Historiann: Well, she left some bits for the rest of us to mess around with ;)

  23. perpetua on 26 Jul 2009 at 10:10 am #

    @Digger – I almost always teach Joan Kelly’s famous article on “Did Women Have a Renaissance?” even though it’s a bit dated, because it argues that women had it better during the Middle Ages and questions the whole issue of periodization and progress. But I was just thinking the last time I taught the course that I wished I did more tying the distant past to the present in some way. (I tend not to do that because I always worry it compels them to make ahistorical and sometimes facile comparisons, but I do see the usefulness as well, especially for understanding contemporary attitudes about gender.

  24. Gavin on 26 Jul 2009 at 10:32 am #

    Historiann: “So the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. couldn’t have happened in the 1880s?”

    And of course the things the Civil Rights movement fought against were also contingent and not inevitable. The Jim Crow laws didn’t always exist. People made and enforced them, and did so as a response to new circumstances (a kind of racist equilibrium?). You could even say that there was some kind of civil rights movement in the period between the end of slavery and the start of Jim Crow, but it was defeated. (I don’t know very much about this period but I’m thinking particularly of Adelbert Ames in Mississippi.) In that case you’re all the more right to ask why a civil rights movement didn’t re-appear sooner.

    Indyanna: It probably looks like I was ignoring your comment because you posted it in between me starting and finishing mine! You’re dead right about the demographic impact of the Second World War and it might have looked like I was downplaying it more than I should have. But I’m just wondering if that’s the whole story. Maybe demographic crisis plus different attitudes to gender? Not necessarily more feminist attitudes, but a different (non-western, non-liberal) approach to exploiting female labour for the benefit of patriarchy. Britain had a demographic crisis in the First World War but didn’t put women into combat roles. Maybe the Soviet Union was more genuinely functionalist, whereas in the west pseudo-functionalist arguments have been used to support what are really just ideological assumptions about what women can/should do.

  25. Historiann on 26 Jul 2009 at 10:44 am #

    Perpetua–what you call a “funny situation” I call an advantage in fighting the whig narrative that we pre-modern (or unmodern?) historians have. Like you, I teach a pre-modern (or really, early modern) women’s history course, and like you I emphasize both agency and creativity by women, and also patriarchal equilibrium. Because I don’t end up with Seneca-Falls-Women’s-Suffrage-Betty-Friedan-Roe-ERA, I’m free to let my students see that change over time isn’t always positive. (I do have the albatross of the American Rev. to deal with in some measure, but it’s actually useful for illustrating just how limited the Revolution really was, and how these benchmarks in men’s history aren’t necessarily useful in women’s history.)

    Digger and Gavin, good points. I think it was Susan back in one of those Judith Bennett threads who said something about emphasizing that change was not synonymous with progress, and that she uses several examples to make that point. (She’s also an unmodernist.) If I can find it I’ll link to it–very smart, insightful, and sensible, as Susan always is!

  26. quixote on 26 Jul 2009 at 11:05 am #

    Fascinating post. It’s never been hard to see that women’s accomplishments are ignored. But this bit

    it evaporates because the culture has a stake in erasing women from history and denying that their participation or leadership ever mattered

    led to an Aha! moment for me. It’s true. This stuff isn’t just a by-product of attitude. It’s essential to the attitude. To forget a thing once could be a symptom. To forget the same thing twice, three times, then it’s accidentally-on-purpose.

    I think maybe one of the biggest conceptual problems is that the evidence says it was purposeful, but there’s no person visibly and consciously flushing things down the memory hole. That’s why things like LBJ’s note are so valuable. You don’t often get to see any of the individual drops that wear away the rock.

  27. quixote on 26 Jul 2009 at 11:22 am #

    I can speak to the thread about Russian gender roles a bit. I grew up in a Russian family, it was my first language, and I know the culture somewhat. Historically, except for the aristocrats, Russian farm women did the majority of the work, including the heavy labor. When I visited the Soviet Union as a child, I remember seeing railroad crews laying track. The teams were mixed male and female, and they looped chains around section of track and lifted it into position. The women could have given the Olympic shotputters we’re all familiar with a run for their money.

    This has not translated into women’s rights, on the whole. Domestic abuse and violence against women were and are epidemic in Russia. That may seem strange, given that people usually assume that physical power is all that counts, but don’t forget Steve Biko’s saying: the first weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.

    So there was a strong cultural tradition of accepting women in physically very demanding jobs. Put that together with the Communists early insistence on women’s rights on paper, and the occasional female astronaut (Tereshkova was her name) makes sense.

  28. Historiann on 26 Jul 2009 at 11:33 am #

    quixote–thanks for your comments, and thanks too to Tanya for bringing that LBJ memo to our attention. (I’m sorry not to have noted that sooner.) quixote, you’re right that specific concrete examples like that are great reminders of how exactly patriarchal equilibrium is maintained. (As Digger noted yesterday, the “structural violence involved in maintaining it.”)

    Thanks for your thoughts on the Soviet women. My sense from the historiography is that in the Cold War–as in the “hot” wars I write about in the 17th and 18th centuries in North America–both sides used rhetoric about gender and family life to build themselves up and to make an invidious contrast with the other side. So, brave Soviet women who were officially liberated from lawful discrimination were portrayed as Communist drudges who weren’t treated like “ladies” by the U.S., and American women who were allegedly so free were portrayed as trapped by consumerism and rendered consumer objects themselves by capitalism (from the Soviet perspective.) Of course, both critiques are pretty insightful, but as we saw with George W. Bush’s “feminist” critique of the Taliban in 2001, it’s only useful for mobilizing political support or popular support for a military invasion. No one really cares about liberating women in a genuine fashion. That’s too threatening to contemplate. We just want to liberate women so they’ll fit in with OUR economic and political system (whatever “OUR” economic and political system is.)

  29. Digger on 26 Jul 2009 at 11:54 am #

    I just came across this, this morning, in an abstract for an article by Paul Shackel, titled “Public Memory and the Search for Power in American Historical Archaeology” (American Anthropologist, 2001, 103(3): 655-670):

    “…public memory can be established by 1) forgetting about or excluding an alternative past, 2) creating and reinforcing patriotism, and/or 3) developing a sense of nostalgia to legitimize a particular heritage.”

    He specifically addresses African Americans working to revise the official memory of the Civil War. I though it was an interesting comment on the current discussion, esp. Quixote’s last point — the idea of an official, public memory tied so very tightly to how we see ourselves. No wonder students have such a time with it. (Can I say structural one more time?)

  30. Indyanna on 26 Jul 2009 at 2:02 pm #

    There’s an interesting Wiki writeup on Valentina Tereshkova, with a *great* picture of a 1963 Soviet commemorative stamp. She went from being a “textile assembly worker” and amateur parachutist [the recruiting protocol apparently required that female cosmonauts be amateur parachutists] to earning a Ph.D in engineering in 1977 after retiring from the corps. No one else in her cohort ever flew, and no Soviet women went into space again until the mid-1980s.

  31. Echidne of the snakes on 26 Jul 2009 at 2:57 pm #

    Thanks for the link, historiann. My comment about the evaporating women’s history was mostly a rhetorical one. I understand why it disappears, though not completely. For example, women writers tend to be rather well written up during their lifetimes (if they sell well etc.), but the disappearing is done in the next generation. It’s as if the lists people have in their heads about who mattered have invisible ink for the women, and by ‘people’ here I mean both men and women.

    The process is usually not actively sexist. My guess is that it’s linked to that whole invisible women syndrome which you learn a lot about just by reading blog comments threads on the Internet.

  32. Investigations of a Dog » My Ideology on 03 Sep 2009 at 4:32 am #

    [...] But this is not progress (and progress itself is a dubious ideology – see this discussion at Historiann). Ideology does not necessarily improve over time. I’m not being a complete moral relativist [...]

  33. Acid Test » Separate Sex and State on 07 Mar 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    [...] square, out of public life. And should a few of them forget their place and make a public mark, the Great Forgetting disappears it. Their concerns are unheard, individual, unimportant, personal, private, something [...]

  34. Acid Test » On the Separation of Sex and State on 09 Mar 2012 at 9:13 pm #

    [...] square, out of public life. And should a few of them forget their place and make a public mark, the Great Forgetting disappears it. Their concerns are unheard, individual, unimportant, personal, private, something [...]

  35. James V. on 07 Jun 2012 at 10:29 am #

    As I read your thread, I notice no one disagrees, no one takes a stand, people hardly even think any differently at all. It’s just round circles of agreement and affirmation.

    Do you ever meet people you don’t agree with already? Have you ever dated one? I mean, one that didn’t end in bitter acrimony.

    Reading this site, or the comment section anyway, from someone standing outside the little circle of belief you represent, is a fascinating experience: you seem almost entirely to prefer people who all believe the exact same thing, far more than other sociological groupings. This is not true of almost any other socio-grouping: you don’t find Democrats, Republicans, libertarians, what have you, with this much complete deference to the central tenets of belief (and before you object, think: is anyone here pro-life/anti-abortion? A single person? No. Obviously not. Thus for nearly everything)

    I’m just curious at the shatter point for belief: is any kind of non-belief enough for you to ostracize? Is simply speaking about your subjects non-reverentially enough to get me thrown out? Other groups that practice this much inside-speaking and conformism are extremely intolerant of any outside forms of thought. I suspect the same here, but am curious about the reaction.

  36. Xiao Mao on 22 Jun 2012 at 2:30 pm #

    Oh, look: a long-winded, condescending, bloviating male concern troll! How original.

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