Men may write history but women live it
There is a common tendency, that is ubiquitous throughout our history books, of men easing the burden of fame off the shoulders of remarkable women whose contributions advanced the work of science, math, art, civil rights and social change.
Women’s History Month is quickly coming to an end but progress toward equality should not. While growing awareness of the wage gap and gender inequality has convinced us we can take a breath from protesting for change, there is a more equitable reality to strive for. The landscape of history continues to erode the accomplishments of remarkable women, and we must correct our past before expecting anything of our future.
Women across every age, race, ethnic and religious background have been slighted by history, which is told by the victor, statistically most probably a white male victor. Not only are their stories left untold in the course of events, it is not uncommon for their successes to be reassigned to the men around them. An example is the case of Rosalind Franklin, who made the initial observation of the double helix but died without any attribution on the Nobel Peace Prize won by James Watson and Francis Crick, despite her work being the foundation of their discovery of the DNA model.
This is not an uncommon trend. Nuclear physicist on The Manhattan Project, Chien-Shiung Wu, experienced a similar narrative. She developed and conducted experiments to disprove the law of parity. Wu was compensated for her contribution to the development of the atomic bomb through her work with a simple thanks. Her male colleagues, Tsung-Dao Lee and Chen-Ning Yang, were obviously more fitting for recognition and received Nobel Prizes for disproving the law of parity.
Films like Hidden Figures and Big Eyes have exposed this culture of society stripping women of their accomplishments and attributing them to men. These films showcase how prevalent and recent these instances are. Whether this phenomena originates from purposeful attempts by men to steal the credit or if these attributions come as a result of the gender biased environment is case dependent, but this erasure is perpetuated throughout all of history.
According to the Women in Literary Arts VIDA Count project, out of 614 popular history texts, 75.8 percent have male authors. This means the voices and narratives that will dominate the understanding of future generations of what it was like to live in some transformative times will be overwhelmingly male.
Women who create art that accurately reflects the world around them in a nonmale perspective are often hushed. The first female director and studio owner, Alice Guy, made hundreds of movies, including one which imagined a world where women flourished in traditionally male roles while men writhed under oppression. She produced the world’s first narrative fiction film, “La fée aux choux.”
She opened her studio in 1910, challenging gender norms before they were even a term. The forgotten female filmmaker was not immortalized, like the other pioneer male filmmakers of her time.
Our culture has experienced a recent transformation that has opened the doorway to not only an inpouring of different perspectives but a demand for them. Yet the discrepancy between male and female historians will unequivocally make it easy to silence the voices of women once again. Young females have to read between the lines of their textbooks and erect their role models from brief and sparse descriptions of the few women that managed to make it into the final draft of history
This scrutinized view of history finds instance after instance of men sidelining women from their own discoveries.
Whether it be Lise Meitner, the woman who lost her Nobel Peace Prize for developing nuclear fusion to her coworker Otto Hahn simply because of her minority status as a Jewish and female refugee, or Henrietta Lacks, whose stem cells were stolen without her consent and paved the way to modern medicine but never saw a sliver of financial compensation, women are forced into the shadowy backgrounds of these endeavors simply because of this backwards mentality that gender dictates potential.
Being a woman in leadership comes with the unfortunate reality of correction emails from Mr. to Ms. and frequent and disrespectful questions about your leadership and authority. Over time, this erodes the confidence of pioneer women on the frontlines of activism, medicine, business, politics, any industry. These feelings of instability are only exacerbated due to the lack of historical role models we have.
The responsibility lies on the shoulders of our generation to prevent this intentional bias which blinds history.
Men may be the ones writing our history, but women live it.
Opinion Editor Anusheh Siddique is a finance freshman and can be reached at [email protected]