On history, tradition and God’s law - and how you shouldn’t trust a word of it.
Another day, another Twitter tyke, telling me how little women have given the world, and how inferior their achievements are in comparison with those of men.
I’ve been tweeting on the #NeglectedWomen hashtag ever since Trump was elected, and still I’m getting comments from men who refuse to believe that women throughout history have ever done anything but allow men to provide for them, raise their children and spend their hard-earned money. These men are often frustrated at the ingratitude of women; their refusal to conform to “traditional” roles; their insistence on getting equality. Some of these men are even under the delusion that equality for women means some kind of payback for the way in which women have been treated: payback for the way in which men have exploited and disenfranchised women throughout history. These men often see themselves as victims of oppression, rather than as oppressors themselves, or the descendants of oppressors. And they fear the idea of equality because these “traditional” gender roles have given them all kinds of privilege.
To be fair, it’s not entirely the fault of men for thinking this way. They’re just repeating what they have been taught from the cradle. They (and some women, too) are repeating the propaganda of another age, an age in which men’s achievements were celebrated, and those of women were hidden, denied or, in some cases, claimed by men all too eager to take the credit.
It has been a very long and very successful propaganda campaign. And to fight it means questioning all kinds of things we used to think were immutable: things like “tradition” and “history” and sometimes even “God’s word.”
Oh, yes: God is on their side. The Bible says so: an ancient text, written by men, translated by men and later, redacted by men to make sure nothing remained within the text that might contradict their agenda.
As for “traditions”, they are often, at best, based on very dubious claims. Traditions – be they traditions of dress, behaviour or role within society - really need only one or two generations to become accepted. And traditions make us feel safe – that’s why we hang on to them, even though we sometimes know that those traditions are wrong. FGM continues because of “tradition.” Slavery was once considered a God-given gift. We cling to our problematic culture, even when its traditions are embedded in racism and sexism. But traditions are merely the drag factor of past behaviours and customs, sometimes offering security, but sometimes a dangerous blindness to the needs of the present. Not all traditions deserve to be kept. Not all traditions are right, or humane.
But what about history, I hear you say? Surely history is beyond reproach? Well, here’s the thing. The concept of objective “history” as we know it is a relatively recent one. We are now becoming increasingly aware that what was until recently taught in schools as “history” and accepted as objective fact is nothing of the sort. It is no accident that the words “history” and “story” are taken from the same root. Historians have, until recently, taken events that appealed to them, and written them into a narrative that also included elements of myth, propaganda and often outright fiction. No-one at the time believed that these “historiae” were entirely based on fact. Only later, when scholars used them to justify their world picture, were they seen as objective truth. Thus, throughout the ages, whole areas of history were redacted, rewritten, fictionalized, censored. Rulers and warlords were ignored in favour of their rivals. The winners of battles wrote history, while the losers were consigned to oblivion. And this is why it was Tacitus, and not Boudicca, who chronicled the wars between the Romans and the Iceni: and that is why we cannot know how much of what Tacitus wrote was true.
So how can we know anything? Well, we could start with looking at actual artefacts and contemporary accounts, rather than histories written long after the event. Assumptions are there to be questioned, and if we do, we start to discover all kinds of things that contradict what we were led to believe in school. DNA traces on cave paintings now suggests that half of those “cave men” were women: DNA testing on the bones of Viking warriors suggests that some of those warriors were women.
And when we start looking at the facts, rather than just what we’ve been told, we soon come to realize that women have been painting, building, sculpting, inventing, fighting, hunting and writing for millennia. It is our knowledge, not women’s achievements, that is lacking. But where our “knowledge” of the past relies on ancient religious texts and historians with their own agendas, the facts can be easily lost or manipulated. Just because someone wrote something down a hundred – or even two thousand - years ago doesn’t make it any more true than if it was printed in the Daily Mail this morning.
Historically, it has been very convenient for men to say women have no power. It has been very convenient to ignore the achievements, the art, the inventions and the scientific discoveries of women. It has been very convenient to excuse the oppression of women on the understanding that somehow they are the weaker sex, unable to do things for themselves, unable to cope without the patriarchal guidance of men. That’s why a certain kind of man has worked hard to hide the truth from the world.
Because if women found out the truth, they would be invincible.