How can SHS assist in promoting the presence and presentation of women in history

A discussion paper from Dr. Greta Sykes, Associate Researcher, UCL, London

The case of an unsatisfactory representation of women both in historical writing and in numbers of historians teaching and writing has been clearly made (A Enright’s reflections in LRB/2017, W. Thompson ‘the history of civilisation is also the history of misogyny, 2015, Marx/ Engels: ‘The foreshortening of history is to impose intellectual shackles upon the further investigation of the great transformation that occurred from savagery to civilisation, ‘The first class oppression is that of the female sex by the male: the key change being the gradual deprivation of sexual freedom from women, but not from men, 1976.’

I propose that the SHS can and ought to take a lead in actively promoting making progress from a situation of inequality through the following measures:
1. Become vigilant in looking for subject areas that are more closely associated with women and invite female speakers where/when available.
2. Include antiquity and its women as a valid subject of research although they would not be working class or socialist, as they represent the earliest forms of women in power. This can show us how women’s power existed and therefore be obtained.
3. Women of whichever background need to be a legitimate subject for study throughout the ages due to their status as being the oppressed class per se to this day.
4. The inclusion of women includes sex, emotions and relationships in the study of history lessening the focus on war and battles and making history writing resemble more closely real life of real people.
Marc van de Mieroop on cuneiform text:
The focus is on kings and battles, even today their biblical characters continue to dominate our perception (Mark van Mireoop, 2016).
The silent subjects of history – women and slaves – are difficult to find, they appear only by way of men competing with men (Judith Herrin, 2015).

Somehow when women’s history is reported a very atemporal attitude emerges in scholarship, as if a woman’s lot is a natural condition, much of it determined by Aeschylus and the bible.’ (Zeitlin, 2016).

Some suggestions for subject areas that are worthy of detailed study:

  • Fatherless origin – children are known through their mother’s family name
  • Sibling marriage (Egypt)
  • The virgin birth or pathenaia
  • Acquisition of status of queen or Goddess
  • The Amazon-complex (Zeitlin) holds that women’s subordinate status must hold otherwise women’s total domination over men is feared.
  • Herodotus, Plutarch, Aeschylus, etc all defined the low status of women and reversed ancient myths to do so.
  • Kekrops is known as the inventor of marriage 400 BC; men did not know who their children were.