This past year I was privileged enough to join a feminist group on campus, called HERE. We met once a month to discuss various issues regarding feminism, sexism, discrimination, and the politics of space (especially university campus). At the end of each session we would write a letter regarding a topic picked by the Editor-in-Chiefs.
The experience was therapeutic and offered this group of individuals a platform to raise their concerns and voice their opinions in a safe and welcoming community. We discussed the multifaceted face of feminism and how at the heart of the movement we all want to spread its simple message--equality for all.
This piece I wrote was selected with 19 other letters for the end of year publication which can be bought here, http://www.thelettersfromhere.com/get-here-vol-1/
The letters are heartfelt, sincere, and most importantly express a desire to find spaces that only promote acceptance of the feminist community.
As a historian I am asked to analyze the past, but in doing so I am repeatedly dumbfounded by the historical and historiographical treatment of women. Since elementary school I have been asked to read textbooks that isolate marginalized groups within a single chapter. When I was younger I took pride in the fact that women, as my current 20th Century European History textbook states, “could do a man’s job.” After three years of critical discourse in university, I now feel the oppressive weight of male historians writing the history of ‘female accomplishment’—as if women’s lives were a passing chapter in history with just enough historical weight to make it into an 800-page textbook.
I have vivid memories of doing a project on Emily Stowe, the famous suffragette, in Grade 10. In a dramatic enactment, I performed as Ms. Stowe being interviewed by a misogynistic reporter to exemplify the suffragettes’ struggle to earn the basic right to vote. The desire to promote the history and importance of the feminist movement still resonates with me. In high school, however, I did not feel that my textbooks or teachers did the subject matter justice; I believe those pages were only successful in showing what feminist history is not. In those pages, there was always the sense that early feminists had accomplished great political, social, and economic rights for the advancement of women, and thus equality had been achieved.
This is, obviously, not the case. As a student of both History and English, I have created my own history. This year in American Literature, my professor approached the material on women writers with a sense of understanding and sensitivity towards the unique perspective in their prose and poetry. Their themes explored motherhood, the limitations of domesticity, the pressure of societal conventions, and a wanting to break free of strict gender binaries. Sylvia Plath constantly discussed the themes of patriarchy and male dominance in her poetry; Jane Austen never married in order to be an independent writer; Gertrude Stein created her own literary form as a means to express women breaking free from societal strictures. In their radical efforts, they provide a new perspective for studying female history.
My professor discussed the importance of the systemic inequality women have faced throughout history, but deepened the analysis as we created a discourse on the mastery of their prose—a discourse that speaks to the talent and ability of these writers, not their gender.
History always informs the present. I choose a literary history to construct my past and, therefore, my present. Centralizing the history of female experience in the education system would provide women with a stronger sense of importance in contemporary society. I do not construct my history using the pages of a textbook that will never leave the classroom; rather, I use the works of capable women who have left an indelible mark in history––without the assistance of a male author including them in the “women’s section” of a textbook.
Sincerely, Clarrie Feinstein (A proud feminist, historian, and advocate for gender equality)