The Problem With Excluding Women From History
When I started to learn about the history of America in first grade, I came to believe that the only people who built this nation were white men. While my history textbooks spotlighted the heroism of white males, they ignored the important work of women (specifically women of color!). We owe a lot of what we know now to so many amazing women.
In our classrooms, our curriculum revolves around what’s written in our textbooks. Usually, the authors of those textbooks are men and they fail to see the need for including females into the history we’re taught. That’s why I can name all of Christopher Columbus’s boats (The Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria) but I can’t name the first woman of color in Congress (it’s Shirley Chisholm, btw, which I only know because I looked it up).
In my American history class, while learning about the Civil War, I quickly became tired of all the stories about machismo on battlefields. I decided to explore what women were contributing during this time period. Surprise! A lot.
Loreta Janeta Velazquez, a Latina woman, was a double agent for both the Confederacy and Union. She masqueraded as a male soldier and was able to help transport information to both sides. I asked my teacher to do a report about Loreta and other women of color in the war, and she agreed. I was able to present the report to my class and open the minds of my classmates.
The exclusion of women in lessons about history is even worse than being factually incorrect; it gives us the toxic mindset to be confined into the roles we typically see women occupying, like managing households. For women of color, this even means being pigeonholed into jobs such as maid or caretaker.
Without women in our textbooks, we are left without strong female role models who have made an impact on our society. We believe women have never made an impact in our world. It makes us fear stating our opinions when they differ from others. It makes us rethink our activism because we are uneasy about our safety. It makes us believe women are insignificant in our country, which is just untrue. This trickles up, leading to a lack of representation of women in politics. Laws will be passed on our behalf and will end up doing more harm than help.
I want all women to challenge history. What you’re learning in class is nowhere near the full story. Don’t be afraid to question your teachers in class about why women aren’t represented in their history lessons. Go beyond the textbook and find women who have made a difference in history. Digging deeper requires extra work, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll discover remarkable women who will motivate you to make a change. I’ve found all sorts of women who empower me to fight for what I believe in.
By Arlene Campa, 15