Women’s History Is Everyone’s History

Opinion
By Jourdan Vian
La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Reporter Jourdan Vian pens a very interesting piece on Women’s History Month and how nice it would be if women were just generally included in history. As Vian points out, “Women’s history is humanity’s history.”

La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

This International Women’s Day I can’t help but think about how short the day seems.

We have a day when we’re supposed to celebrate what women can achieve inside a month when we’re supposed to celebrate all that women have achieved. We like to package it in memes and pat little phrases about how every woman is a shero or an inspiration to someone.

The La Crosse Tribune dedicates space every day of women’s history month to a woman who changed history in some way. It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, because I do. I’ve learned about some pretty amazing women by reading our Women’s History Month item each day, and I’m glad we share even a snippet of their stories.

But I can’t help thinking how wonderful it would be if we didn’t separate these women out as we discuss the whole of history, if we talked about Mary Burnett Talbert, one of the founders of the NAACP, like we talk about Martin Luther King Jr.

Women’s history is humanity’s history. Women didn’t grow up in a vacuum. The challenges they dealt with weren’t created out of thin air. Largely they were created by men or were simply a natural consequence of living in a society created by men.

My personal celebration of Women’s History Month is to read a biography of a woman, written by a woman. It’s no great chore for me, since biographies and memoirs are pretty much my favorite thing to read.

What I like about reading biographies written by women is that they don’t shy away from telling the obstacles put in place by men and the patriarchy.

This year I’m reading “Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise,” which neither paints Zelda in a particularly glamorous light nor shies away from the very real problems caused by being married to F. Scott Fitzgerald, a man who felt all her attention should be focused on him at all times.

F. Scott Fitzgerald was a drinker before he met Zelda Sayre, later Zelda Fitzgerald. His own disease drove him to the bottle far before his wife’s mental illness reared its ugly head, and it’s hardly her fault he spent nine years drinking with Ernest Hemingway instead of writing “Tender is the Night.”

Contrary to the popular adage “Write drunk, edit sober,” writing drunk just leaves you with a mess that no one could ever edit.

The book shares the story of Zelda and Scott’s relationship, which was abusive and messy and culminated in them spending large amounts of time apart after Scott had her committed for being obsessed with ballet instead of him.

You can say, “Sure, but that’s just one narcissist. Not all men are narcissists.” And you’d be right. They’re not.

But the difference between a male narcissist and a female narcissist in the 1930s was that a man could go to a doctor and say, “Lock her up. She wants to be a dancer and an artist instead of an obedient wife and mother,” and the doctor would say, “Sure, sounds like a bona fide case of schizophrenia to me,” whereas a woman would be laughed at for suggesting her husband should be obedient — and probably still committed for being crazy enough to question her husband.

Not that Zelda Fitzgerald wasn’t mentally ill — she was — but spending months at a time in an insane asylum undergoing electric and insulin shock therapies was probably not super helpful.

Separating Zelda’s history from her time, her circumstances and her complete dependence on her husband should be impossible — it’s certainly impossible to do it and tell the whole story — and yet mostly she’s just known as Scott Fitzgerald’s crazy wife who died in an asylum fire.

I’m rambling a little, but my point is that the history we know is largely centered on men, and it doesn’t have to be.

We do ourselves a disservice when we ignore the full history of women, even when it’s not all that pleasant (Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s racist campaign to deny black men the vote comes to mind).

History should tell the whole story, the good, the bad, the ugly, the male and the female.

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