“Herstory” is a term invented by feminists to describe a particular, and as it turns out peculiar, way of re-characterizing history.
“Herstory” is a rejection of the male-centeredness supposedly represented by the first syllable of “history,” and an implicit criticism of dead, white male historians. The point is that women are given short shrift in history, and if more people, especially women, knew about specific contributions women have made to freedom (though as we will see, “freedom” has its own specific feminist context) they would understand that the struggle against patriarchy demands absolute rejection of even the slightest hint that women are different from men. This concept is manifest in our Universities under the veil of “Womens Studies,” a course of study that typically delivers doctrinal talking points to the already indoctrinated.
“Herstory,” is a term which might even be considered clever if it were not so obvious that it resulted from a search operation for the syllable “-his-” to be replaced with “-her-,” probably conducted just before replacing “-men-” with “-myn-.” This level of sophistication is to be expected from a movement still contending that “manhole cover” is an affront by the patriarchy.
As Christina Hoff Sommers notes in the article (RTWT, recommended) that inspired this post, Camille Paglia agrees. Here’s how Paglia describes Womens Studies:
a jumble of vulgarians, bunglers, whiners, French faddicts, apparatchiks, dough-faced party-liners, pie-in-the-sky utopians and bullying sanctimonious sermonizers. Reasonable, moderate feminists hang back and keep silent in the face of fascism.
Ironically, or maybe not, the feminists themselves have a great deal to answer for in terms of a revisionism that actively suppresses the history of their own movement. We will see that this feminist disdain for women of great accomplishment relates to an agenda that rejects the concept of choice for individual women. From Sommers article, we hear Simone de Beauvoir’s prescription for women who would prefer to stay at home and take care of their children:
No, we don’t believe that any woman should have this choice. No woman should be authorized to stay at home to raise her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.
“Liberated” women, according to de Beauvoir, obey the dictates of the annointed. De Beauvoir, for those unaware, is no fringe feminist. Indeed, she is an icon.
I suggest that the term of art “gender feminism,” used (often in this blog) to describe the well indoctrinated graduates of Womens Studies programs per Paglia’s quote above, should be replaced with the term “totalitarian feminism;” the idea that preventing women from making free choices is best for them. How could this be achieved except by a state like China where girl babies continue to die as a result of a state “one-child” policy, or a religio-cultural milieu such as fundamentalist Islam where women are not allowed to be educated, seen or heard? “Collectivist feminism” is another possibility, but it seems to me to be too weak to describe the intent.
Here are some examples of heroic women in history whose contributions to freedom are routinely suppressed by “herstory:”
Hannah More (1745-1833)
More initiated a humane revolution in the relations of the sexes that was decorous, civilized, and in no way socially divisive. Above all, it was a feminism that women themselves could comfortably embrace: a feminism that granted women the liberty to be themselves without ceasing to be women. Indeed, if More’s name and fame had not been brushed out of women’s history, many women today might well be identifying with a modernized version of her female-friendly feminism.
…Hannah More is not the only once-famous women’s advocate to have vanished from the official “herstorical” record. Ken Burns, the celebrated documentarian, followed his award-winning Civil War with a 1999 film about Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) and Susan B. Anthony (1820-1906) and their struggle to win the vote for American women. There is one brief sequence in which the narrator explains that in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Anthony forged coalitions with conservative mainstream groups. The mood darkens, and a pioneer in the field of women’s studies–Sally Roesch Wagner–appears on the screen. Wagner informs viewers that Anthony was so determined to win the vote, she established alliances with prosuffrage women who were “enemies of freedom in every other way–Frances Willard is a case in point.”
Frances Willard (1839-98)
One would never imagine from Burns’s film that Frances Willard (1839-98) was one of the most beloved and respected women of the nineteenth century. When she died, one newspaper wrote, “No woman’s name is better known in the English-speaking world than that of Miss Willard, save that of England’s great queen.” Because of her prodigious good works and kindly nature, Willard was often called the “Saint Frances of American Womanhood.”
But Willard, a suffragist and leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, is another once-esteemed figure in women’s history who is today unmentioned and unmentionable. Willard brought mainstream women into the suffrage movement, and some historians credit her with doing far more to win the vote for women than any other suffragist. But her fondness for saying things like “Womanliness first–afterwards what you will” was her ticket to historical obloquy.
Clare Boothe Luce (1903 – 1987)
…a conservative feminist who in her heyday in the 1940s was a popular playwright and a member of the U.S. Congress, wrote and spoke about women at a time when feminism’s “second wave” was still more than twenty years away. Luce’s exemplary remarks on Mother Nature and sex differences are especially relevant today.
It is time to leave the question of the role of women in society up to Mother Nature–a difficult lady to fool. You have only to give women the same opportunities as men, and you will soon find out what is or is not in their nature. What is in women’s nature to do they will do, and you won’t be able to stop them. But you will also find, and so will they, that what is not in their nature, even if they are given every opportunity, they will not do, and you won’t be able to make them do it.
Those who prefer individual freedom to collectivist coercion will need to take feminism back before it can be relevant again.
Revisionist history is never a pretty sight. But feminist revisionists are destructive in special ways. They seek to obliterate not only feminist history but the femininity that made it a success.
Thanks to Democracy Project for making me aware of Sommers’ essay.