This week I’m heading up to Taos to teach a workshop I’m calling “Writing History.” This is a topic I’ve thought about for a long time. Even today, thirty years after the launch of what is now called Second Wave Feminism—I just think of it as essential—most of the published, well-reviewed and well-regarded histories are written by men, usually professional historians with advanced degrees.
Does it matter?
I’m sure it does.
For example, several women served, disguised as men, in our Revolutionary War, leading up to the Declaration of Independence, the signing and delivery of which was marked Thursday with grotesque displays of armament.
But the fact that a few women served in that far off war is seldom mentioned in male-authored histories—because it doesn’t fit with a conventional, male-oriented point of view. And in pursuit of those advanced degrees, such questions seldom receive serious attention.
And what about the women who, willingly or unwillingly, provided essential support for that war, as we have for all wars: as nurses, wives, cheerleaders, emotional providers, without which no war could happen.
Their stories are usually ignored.
And so our history is sexist, ignoring all the factors that would mean recognizing the roles played by women—as well as the roles played by Native Americans and slaves.
The woman I saw with the soldiers at the re-enactment I photographed a year ago, at Boonesboro, Kentucky—this re-enactment attempts very successfully to recreate the siege of Fort Boone by Shawnee Indians in 1777 (they withdrew after ten days; nothing much was happening since the colonists refused to leave their fort to engage in combat, and it was raining)—features in my next book but one, Taken by Indians, an historical novel based on my great-great-great-grandmother’s adventure.
And the woman I saw at the siege, among the soldiers if not quite one of them—she carried no weapon—did she know that from the conventional historian’s point of view, she didn’t exist?
Except maybe as a camp follower.
There are so many hidden stories that we as writers and readers need to write and to read—and to demand that they be written by women, and published with the same fanfare accorded to the histories we are reading now.