Women making history writing their own stories
Last updated 3/1/2023 at 4:32pm | View PDF
Every year in grad school when we taught the short story "The Yellow Wall-paper" to our freshman writing classes, my friend David would use the opportunity to include a quick lesson on modern-day feminism.
He'd ask his students to raise their hands if they were feminists. Few did.
Then he would ask them a series of questions - should women be allowed to hold any job they wanted, should they earn the same pay as men for the same job, etc. - and asked the students to raise their hands if they agreed. They responded as expected, hands high in the air, and he'd congratulate them. They were all feminists.
I hadn't remembered that Charlotte Perkins Gilman's piece was part autobiography. This week while doing some research on Women's History Month, I stumbled on these comments Gilman made in 1913.
"For many years I suffered from a severe and continuous nervous breakdown tending to melancholia - and beyond. During about the third year of this trouble I went, in devout faith and some faint stir of hope, to a noted specialist in nervous diseases, the best known in the country. This wise man put me to bed and applied the rest cure, to which a still good physique responded so promptly that he concluded that there was nothing much the matter with me, and sent me home with solemn advice to 'live as domestic a life as possible,' to 'have but two hours' intelligent life a day,' and 'never to touch pen, brush or pencil again as long as I lived.' This was in 1887 ..."
"Work is dangerous" is just one of the stories women have been told over the years.
Fast forward to 2023 and a podcast featuring Dr. Marisa Franco, author of "Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make - and Keep - Friends," talking about how society has devalued friendship in favor of romantic relationships.
When host Dan Harris asks her why she thinks that is, she says since was a child, she received the message that romantic love is all anyone needs. The message is everywhere, from Hallmark cards to an entire genre of films (rom-coms) to the phrase "just friends."
Based on some historian's thoughts on this topic, she speculates that the narrative that women need to be married became more important once women no longer needed marriage to survive.
"Once women have rights, how are we going to keep them entering into these marriages? I think part of that way was that we really taught women, 'You need romantic love to be worthy as a person. And if you don't have it, you're not worthy as a person.' And if we valued friendship too much, it might make people question, 'Could I choose a life partner in a friend? Could I just center this around friends?' And it might threaten this sacred institution of marriage that we have."
"Women must be married to be worthy" is another story women have been told.
Of course there's nothing wrong with choosing not to work or choosing to get married, but the key component here is "choice." For too many years women's fates were controlled by men.
Times are changing, though, even as vestiges of our patriarchal society remain intact. More and more women are writing their own narratives and determining their own fates.
Women's History Month pieces often look back at the accomplishments of female trailblazers who have opened the doors for us to walk through today. This month I plan to focus on what females of all ages are doing now that those doors have been opened.
I'll start next week with a column on the girls from BSA Troop 10 who made history by attending a district scouting competition for the first time. I hope you'll read along!
- Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean. Readers
can email her at