Women’s Role in ‘Herstory’ is Subject of Decisive Debate

El Vaquero Staff Writer

Imagine all American history classes being renamed “herstory” classes. Instead of memorizing the names of deceased male American presidents, students would focus their study on prominent women of the past.

Many women feel the reverse of this rule, which is that history focuses on the accomplishments and events that involve mostly men, while merely mentioning the names of a few women. Some feel that many of these so-called prominent women of the past have not been given the attention that prominent people deserve, or at least not by the standards of history textbook authors.

“Rather than dealing with women as a separate area of study, I like to integrate the history of women into the fabric of the western and world history courses that I teach,” said Instructor of History Kristin Leaf.
When thinking of the term ” history,” many people think of memorizing dates, facts, events, and important people. Most persons would never have thought that history could have a sexist connotation, though for some women it does.

The term herstory is used for women’s history, and to point out the fact that what is presented as our history is all too often simply ” his story.” Some argue that most people are oblivious to the fact that much of American history is centered on prominent men and mentions little about important women.

Herstory is not a commonly used term, nor is it well known. It appeared in the English language at a time when American feminists were trying to protest the exclusion of women from the telling of the human story, which at that time was widely perceived as western, male and white. The term was invented in 1970 by Robin Morgan when she wrote ” Sisterhood Is Powerful,” one of her many books on feminism. Ann Forfreedom, another well-known feminist author, argued for its use in a 1972 essay entitled “Why Herstory?” However, the term never gained wide acceptance, even among feminist historians. This may be, as some historians have claimed, partly because the root of history is not his story, but a Greek word.

Many historians have argued that herstory is not a valid term. It is well understood that the term history does not derive from a running together of his and story. Rather, the term derives from the Greek term for knowing by inquiry, which the Romans rendered as the Latin ‘historia.’

Women’s history was rarely, if ever, the subject of any serious study prior to 1970.

However, the fields of women’s studies and women’s history have undergone monumental changes since then as there are few colleges that do not offer women’s history courses. Most graduate programs even offer degrees in the field.

The emergence of women’s history in the United States was encouraged by the women’s movement of the 1960s. The movement caused women to question their invisibility within conventional American society. It also increased the aspirations of women as many felt unfulfilled with their roles primarily limited to caretakers and homemakers.

Since positions of leadership were not widely available to women, the evolving concept of history was an ideal channel for presenting women’s history. It has even allowed women to have a greater participation in politics.

It has taken many years and immeasurable efforts for the study of women in history to be taken seriously. Today, however, most would agree that the role of women has changed. Women’s studies has progressed to become a powerful and essential part of our culture.