There is now a new heroic woman to write into the history books. Marina Ovsyannikova is a Russian state television producer who went on camera during a news broadcast with a poster denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine. She was quickly seized by authorities and faces serious criminal charges for publically spreading false information about the Russian military and could face fifteen years in prison. Ovsyannikova explained her opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the lies the government is telling the Russian people in a video.
In a workshop for teachers on Women’s History, I ask them to list the 20 most important women in world history before the 20th century and their accomplishments. Most teachers have difficulty listing more than six. We then discuss what the problem is. Are the history books essentially accurate? For whatever reason, women have made fewer major contributions. Is the problem that history books and historical research are primarily done by men and they have undervalued and underreported contributions made by women? Historians could be focusing on the wrong topics, primarily examining areas like war, politics, and business where men traditionally dominated. Maybe woman have made fewer major historical contributions because of the patriarchal nature of most human societies so women have had far fewer opportunities to learn and contribute. Perhaps in eras that depended on strength for work and war, men dominated because they are bigger and stronger. No one ever argues that men made more intellectual and artistic contributions because on the average they are more intelligent and more artistic, although I don’t believe there are no people who continue to think that.
March is Woman’s History Month. In social studies classes, there needs to be recognition of frequently overlooked achievements by women, but if women’s complex role in history is going to be fully understood, there also needs to be recognition of the negative roles some women have played in the past and present. Today’s blog introduces women who should be recognized for their achievements. Thursday’s blog focuses in on a group of women who defied feminine stereotypes by the role they played in Nazi Germany.
Documents and activity sheets for high school global history classes detailing the role of women in history are available on my website.
Misogyny in the Judeo-Christian tradition begins in the Book of Genesis where Eve tempts Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge and women are eternally punished with menstruation. The Christian New Testament is decidedly misogynist. In 1 Timothy (2:12) we are “suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.” In 1 Corinthians (14:34) men are instructed “Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law.”
Sophocles, a poet and playwright in ancient Athens, wrote about the mistreatment of women who were denied any role in civil society. Women were also subject to strict controls in Confucian China, however, during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD) Wu Zetian became the only woman to be emperor of China. Surviving documents so show that women had some legal rights in 4th century AD Egypt and noble women had to ability to be educated in Japan around 1000 AD. Jeanne D’Arc (1412-1431 AD), known in English as Joan of Arc, is a French national hero for leading the resistance against an invading English army. Her followers and enemies knew her simply as the “Maid,” which signified her status as an unmarried young woman. She was executed as a witch and later declared a Roman Catholic Saint in 1920. At the end of the 19th and start of the 20th century, a young woman named Tjut Njak Dien led Indonesian resistance against Dutch colonization of the archipelago.
In the 20th century, women started having the freedom to play much more important historical roles, both positive and negative. Golda Meir was Prime Minister of Israel between 1969 and 1974. Indira Gandhi was Prime Minister of India from 1966 to 1977 and 1980 through 1984. Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister in the United Kingdom from 1975 to 1990. Corazon Aquino was President of the Philippines from 1986 to1992. Benazir Bhutto was Prime Minister of Pakistan between 1988-1990 and 1993-1996. Aung San Suu Kyi elected Prime Minister of Myanmar in 1991 but not allowed to take office; she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 but later was involved in brutal suppression of minorities. Rosa Luxemburg, Germany, Dolores Ibárruri, Spain, Jian Qing, China, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, South Africa, were all revolutionary leaders in their country. Women, especially younger women, have continued to make history in the 21st century. They include Malalai Joya in Afghanistan and climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden.
As the world confronts climate change, it is important to recognize the pioneering work of 19th century American scientist Eunice Foote. Foote conducted early experiments that demonstrated the greenhouse effect. In an article published in an 1856 issue of The American Journal of Science and Arts (vol. 22 no. 66: 383–384), Foote wrote:
“My investigations have led for their object to determine the different circumstances that affect the thermal action of the rays of light that proceed from the sun. Several results have been obtained . . . The action increases with the density of the air, and it diminishes as it becomes more rarified. The experiments were made with an air-pump and two cylindrical receivers of the same size, about four inches in diameter and thirty in length. In each were placed two thermometers, and the air was exhausted from one and condensed in the other. After both had acquired the same temperature they were placed in the sun, side by side, and while the action of the sun’s rays rose to 1100 in the condensed tube, it attained only 880 in the other. I had no means at hand of measuring the degree of condensation or rarefaction [diminution of density] . . . This circumstance must affect the power of the sun’s rays in different places, and contributes to produce their feeble action of the summits of lofty mountains.”
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FreedomCon 2022: Toward Change – Toward Equality
April 1st, 2nd and 3rd, 2022
Hudson Valley Community College, Bulmer Telecommunications Center, Troy, NY 12180
Sponsored by the Underground Railroad Education Center
Friday evening, April 1, 7:00 to 8:30, join us for an in-person and virtual presentation by award-winning author, journalist, and scholar Pamela Newkirk.
Saturday, April 2 9:00 AM until 5 PM, in-person and virtual workshops across 6 thematic tracks. Social Entrepreneurship; UGRR’s Untold Stories; Racism, Democracy and the Rebirth of Freedom; Antiracism Instruction in the Classroom; Environmental Racism; Teens – Agents of Change
Sunday, April 3, 1 to 4 PM in-person open house at The Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence.
FRIDAY and SATURDAY (Virtual) Adults ($40) Seniors ($35) Students ($25)
FRIDAY and SATURDAY (In person) Adults ($70) Seniors ($60) Students ($45)
Scholarships are available