The flexibility of the ‘separate spheres’ ideology has been thoroughly demonstrated by historians due to evidence signifying women’s inherent role in public life. Whilst there was still a domesticated role seldom expected of women in the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, particularly after the French Revolution, women in public life further increases. Due to the Lockean ideology of citizenship presented in The Declaration for the Rights of Man and Citizen in France, Mary Wollstonecraft drew up a similar abstract of her own, titled a Vindication of the Rights of Woman, of which she argued for more political responsibilities and representation of women. This, coupled with expanding the female workforce, demonstrates a subtle shift to a more ‘equally’ gendered world.
For this edition of New Histories, we wanted to provide a space for students to discuss Women’s History in Women’s History Month. While there has no doubt been much disruption due to the impact of COVID-19, it is hoped that this magazine will provide an outlet for students who are now locked down to engage with their passions in a way that provides information for others too.
On 15 January 1962, nearly 2000 American women and their children picketed the White House in the pouring rain, posting soggy letters to incumbent President John F. Kennedy while juggling umbrellas, placards and strollers. With signs that read ‘Never Say Die’ and ‘When it rains, it pours- Strontium 90’, the women were members of Women Strike for Peace (WSP), a protest ‘unorganization’ created to put pressure on the US and USSR to end atmospheric nuclear testing. Motivated by studies that found the radioactive isotope, Strontium-90, in breast and cow’s milk, WSP dominated press coverage of the anti-nuclear movement, a feat primarily achieved by framing their activism around middle-class motherhood.
The television drama Gentleman Jack, based on the life of 19th-century lesbian Anne Lister, has been ground-breaking in its portrayal of lesbian relationships. Lister is a significant part of queer and women’s history and her story has rightly been recently adapted for the screen. This article will not focus on Lister’s life but the source of her history – her secret diaries, which were written in her own code. She used code when writing about private matters – sex, money and her opinions on the people around her. In fact, one sixth of her writing was in code – a mix of Ancient Greek, mathematics and punctuation. These diaries have a fascinating history, almost as intriguing as Anne herself. Without them, her voice would have been lost to history, a fate that befell many queer women.
In discussing the wide breadth of women’s history, many events become unearthed that deserve significant historical recognition. One area from the 20th century that has been greatly overlooked, despite occurring as a result of one of the most historical focused and revisited events, is the comfort women of the Japanese Empire during WWII.
Sparta has a name for being the tough city of the Ancient Greek world. Films like ‘300’ represent the emphasis on warrior strength that was incredibly important to the Spartans. However, this was not simply important for the men, physical strength was also a trait cultivated by women. The Spartan social and political system was based on the Laws of Lycurgus, a mythological founder of the city. He believed that “for women to bear strong children, they should avoid the secluded life of most Greek women.” In this sense Sparta was culturally more equal than other Hellenic cities at the time although not necessarily liberated.
The understanding and impact that mental health can have on people and society has become increasingly important. With more people in prominent positions using their voice and platforms to voice their own experiences with mental health, it has become something that is commonly referenced in day to day life, and rightfully so. However, the history of mental health is long and complicated, spanning from Ancient Egypt to modern day. The history of mental health is so complex as it intersects with a number of other factors, including sexuality and race. However, the history of mental health in terms of gender is rich, and the understanding of women’s mental health is explicitly misogynistic from the get-go.
As we enter a new decade, women’s bodies continue to be a cultural reference and topic for discussion. They are politicised, used in illustrative comments, yet still remain a taboo. Ben Broadbent, the Deputy Governor of the Bank of England, caused controversy in late 2018 when he described a faltering, stagnant economy as ‘menopausal’. Despite later issuing an apology, his words illustrate a deep-rooted trend in modern society: we continually present women’s aging bodies in a negative light. We can see this trend as far back as the 16th Century. In the spirit of Women’s History Month I felt that I could draw some parallels between our modern day sentiments of the female body and the heightened atmosphere of the 16th century. It was a century characterised by a demographic crisis in the aftermath of the Black Death, so fertility and reproduction were a priority. The 16th century was the peak of the politicisation of women’s bodies. Women who were perceived to be undesirable, such as prostitutes and older women became the victims of a witch-hunt in which over 25,000 women in Germany were executed from 1580-1590. We no longer persecute women in such a cruel manner, yet we perpetrate a discourse in which we perceive women as symbols of fecundity and strip them of their agency once this fertility diminishes, a trend that this article will explore.
Throughout the twentieth century we see the emergence of psychiatry as a branch of medicine and care. While a huge amount of progress has been made within the discipline with confronting biases within psychological theory and the implications this has on treatment, its foundations remain problematic. Linked to early ideas about biology and influenced by social gender norms, psychiatry developed as an inherently misogynistic practice. Whilst in recent years these biases have been confronted and attempts have been made to prevent any discrimination, we cannot ignore the harmful implications of these biases in the past.
Women’s History Month calls for the celebration and reassertion of the role of women in history, society and culture. This ultimately leads to the celebration of women through their contribution to influential milestones. The work of Greta Thunberg is undoubtedly one of these vital milestones in the feminist movement.