How many “forgotten” women stories do there need to be before we decide it’s time to tell women’s stories now and forever more?
The answer is The Confab.
Because here’s the thing: If women don’t tell the stories of their lives, their accomplishments, they don’t exist. Men surely tell their stories. Why don’t women?
Just the other day, I saw yet another example of this terrible loss. In writing You Do Not Belong Here, a book that hopes to correct the loss of the history of women reporters who covered the Vietnam War, author Elizabeth Becker discovered:
“For self-protection as well as the cultural conditions of the era, the women of the Vietnam War did not tell their stories. Male journalists who wrote memoirs about their time during the war either left out the women or belittled their accomplishments, no matter how many awards the women had won.”
This absence, this very real loss of women to history is something I have long contemplated. In my fourth-grade classroom, there was a shelf of blue books, all biographies of famous Americans. I would run my fingers along the spines — George Washington, Benjamin Franklin – searching for the name of a woman. I found one, her name was Narcissa Whitman. She was the first woman to cross the country in a covered wagon, a feat she was able to accomplish only after she married a pastor, Dr. Marcus Whitman, in 1836. If marriage is what it took to fulfill her ambition for adventure, so be it. She needed to find a way and she found it.
In college, I switched schools to study with with the woman who created women’s studies as a bone fide curriculum. I celebrated, with cigars, the first woman to become chair of the English department at this formerly all-male college. I got the opportunity to teach the first “women in literature” course there. My first academic articles about women writers were published because I had two formidable women mentors.
In grad school, tracking down the women poets of the seventeenth century, the few I could find were women of high position and means; women who had the time and wherewithal to jot down a few lines of poesy. Because let’s face it, most women of that era (and any subsequent era, for that matter) were too busy taking care of the home, their children, and often farm work, to think of adding writing to their daily tasks. There was no time, no peace of mind to tell a story. A room of one’s own there was not.
Then there is the self-confidence, the belief that one’s story is worth telling. Just in the recent past, women had to learn to raise their hands in class to be heard. Long training in modesty is hard to kick.
All this silence leaves the bookshelves bare. And how, without reading the stories of women who defied the odds to do something important, can any woman imagine her own path?
Nancy Evans, Host of The Confab Podcast