It’s a painful thing sitting through high school history lessons after waking up to the reality of patriarchy. I feel the angst of being left out of every written document, every invention, every pivotal moment. Today, the US History teacher showed her class a video entitled The Men Who Built America. Every minute of the presentation was filled with dramatic tension surrounding the thoughts and actions of these “great” men of The Gilded Age. The World Civilizations teacher taught a lesson about Henry VIII with zeal, describing the tyrant’s wives as if they were nothing more than sitting ducks being picked off one by one.
Again, women were an afterthought. a footnote, punctuation if they were even remembered. What is the message? “Men are strong and powerful–men make things happen. Women are only present when they’re needed for sex and childbirth. We are only important when we’re sexually desirable and if we’re not…we don’t matter.”
This is just some of what was missing from today’s lectures:
1869–For the first time, women sit on a grand jury in Cheyenne,Wyoming
1879–Belva Lockwood is the first woman to try a case before the supreme court
1890–women get the vote in Wyoming
1916–“Margaret Sanger tests the validity of New York’s anti-contraception law by establishing a clinic in Brooklyn. The most well-known of birth control advocates, she is one of hundreds arrested over a 40-year period for working to establish women’s right to control their own bodies.”
1920–The nineteenth amendment is ratified in the US
Katherine of Aragon was born in 1485 in Spain. As a child, she was educated in Latin, French and philosophy. She was married off twice and her refusal to annul the second marriage (to Henry) resulted in the creation of the Church of England.
Anne Boleyn was born around 1501 in England. She lived for a time in France before returning to England to become one of Katherine of Aragon’s ladies in waiting. Despite being an object of ridicule and suspicion, Anne focused on improvements for the poor during her time as queen. She was a spirited woman and endured much harsh treatment until her murder in 1536.
Jane Seymour was born in 1509 in England. Although descended from wealthy parents, Jane was denied a proper education. After acting as lady in waiting to both Katherine and Anne before her, she married Henry 11 days after Anne’s murder. She died after childbirth at the age of 26.
Anne Cleeves was born in 1515 in Dusseldorf, Germany. Like so many other women of the time, she was a mere pawn, married off for purely political reasons. Henry blamed his inability to consummate the marriage on her, saying she was too ugly but more likely it was due to his own impotence and poor health. Luckily, she escaped the marriage after only six months and reportedly remained on good terms with Henry afterward.
Catherine Howard was born in 1522 (notice a pattern here?) into poverty. However, she had some powerful male family members and was married to the lecherous king around the age of 18. He accused her of sleeping around and had her murdered in 1542.
Katerynn Parr was born in 1512 in London England. Her father died when she was very young but she maintained a close relationship with her mother. She had a passion for learning and became fluent in multiple languages. During her marriage to Henry, she helped him reconcile with his daughters and maintained a good relationship with his son. As circumstances would have it, Katerynn was endowed with many rights and responsibilities to act on behalf of her husband. It is believed that her strength of character greatly influenced her stepdaughter, the future Queen Elizabeth. Luckily, Katerynn outlived Henry.
It’s hard to find information about women that’s unrelated to men. In historical texts, men seem to exist without women whereas women only exist in relation to men. Today, many women are still known only by their relationships to men: “So-and-so’s wife, mother, sister, daughter.” I long for the day when this will not be so.