The only lecture I’ve ever had on women’s history was delivered by a man
15 minutes was spent talking about why women were considered biologically inferior
I have studied History for a year and half and whilst there has always been a woefully short supply of lectures on the history of women, it had never been illustrated quite so fully as this. If you don’t believe in the patriarchy, let this be a lesson to you.
This year, in the second-year modern history module, just one 50 minute lecture was assigned to cover the ‘History of Women’ (the course covers from 1500-2000).
To those that might argue that there is no specific ‘men’s history’, sorry to disappoint you, but that is every other lecture that we receive. In total, 30 lectures which cover 500 years of English and Scottish history, are delivered. Of these so far, women have been marginalised and rarely mentioned – with most sources in our, mandatory, course reader written and delivered by men.
Through the growth of the 18th, 19th and even 20th centuries the growth of the involvement of women in the public sphere is massive, and the fact that this is only being addressed on a limited scale is ridiculous. It is time for the specification to finally highlight the role of women, not just for a 45 segment which covers barely 20 years of what they have achieved.
Perhaps my criticism that the lecture was delivered by a man is unfair.
It is possible that there was no other member of the department suited to present the opinions on a vague period of 19th Century history. However, having researched the women’s history in that period extensively for book reviews, essays and A-Level, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask that a woman could have presented it.
The question further lends to what we were actually taught in our singular lecture on the subject. The lecturer began by saying that the movement for suffrage was driven by concerns for other things. Whilst partially true, it seems unfair to undermine women fighting for a basic, and general, human right. To diminish their concerns and activism to one solely based upon issues of poverty and education lessens the extent to which women sought the vote as active members of society.
This aside, a further 15 minutes of the lecture (which only lasted for 45 minutes), was spent on the opinions of Darwin and Spencer; and how women were argued to be biologically inferior to men.
It seems unforgivable that 30% of the time in the one lecture we have on women was taken up by the opinions of men, and how that related to women being treated as inferior.
For every biological example that was provided, there was an ignorance of the women reformers who were fighting against the prejudice at the same time. For the two-minute mention of Josephine Butler, Ada Lovelace, Barbara Bodichon, Elizabeth Jesser Reid and Mary Seacole were all ignored in their pioneering influence in addressing class, social and racial stereotypes against women at the time.
Is it really so much to ask, that in the 45 minutes of a lecture on the ‘History of Women in Britain?’, that we could actually talk about the history of women?