Women’s Erasure in History
March 8, 2022
— BRAVE CONVERSATIONS SERIES —
A Deliberate Approach to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Lawrence Hall’s DEI Committee strives to ensure Lawrence Hall is a diverse, equitable environment of belonging and inclusivity. Having “brave conversations” about diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace is a necessity for healthy company culture and requires honesty, compassion, and self-reflection of all involved. Our Brave Conversations Series highlights topics not normally discussed but that have deep, personal impacts on our staff, youth, families, and communities.
March is Women’s History Month, so this month’s Brave Conversations will focus on issues facing women today. Our first conversation is around women’s erasure from history.
Women’s erasure from history
As we mentioned during Black History Month, erasure is everywhere. Erasure is the practice of taking work, ideas, and creative genius from individuals without properly crediting or citing them as the source. Concerning women, writers Anita Sarkeesian and Laura Hudson state, “The erasure of women from history is two-fold: not only are we discouraged or punished for stepping outside the limited roles offered to us, but when we do achieve great things despite the odds, our accomplishments are often diminished, ignored or credited to men.”
What are some examples of women’s erasure?
Stemming from an 1893 essay by suffragist and abolitionist Matilda Joslyn Gage on the erasure of women in science, “The Matilda Effect” now labels the practice of removing or downplaying all women’s contributions to history and invention.
- Born in Ukraine, Janet Sobel was a grandmother when she started experimenting with her son’s painting supplies. She was an instant success, and her drip technique would later inspire American artist Jackson Pollock—who got all the credit and accolades for the avant garde painting technique.
- A civil rights pioneer, lawyer, and queer Black feminist, Dr. Pauli Murray was arrested for refusing to move to the back of a bus in Petersburg, VA, in 1940—fifteen years before Rosa Parks did the same. Dr. Murray’s published law reference book, States’ Laws on Race and Color (1951), was used to form the winning argument in Brown v. Board of Education.
- Speaking of which, the Rosa Parks story generally taught in school does not convey her true activism. Portrayed as a quiet Black seamstress who calmly defied segregation rules on an Alabama bus in 1955, Parks was actually an outspoken freedom fighter. She was the secretary of the Montgomery branch of the NAACP in 1943, counted Malcolm X as one of her heroes, and co-founded Detroit’s Joan Little Defense Committee which helped 21-year-old Joan Little become the first woman in U.S. history to successfully use the argument of self-defense against sexual assault in a murder case.
- Ada Lovelace was a British mathematician in the mid-1800s who created the first computer program for her colleague’s computer prototype. “Ada” was the name given to the large-scale computer language developed by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early 1980s.
- Maria Anna Mozart was the Mozart family’s first piano prodigy and composed music in the 1770s, which her brother Wolfgang highly praised. Her father ended her performance career when she was 18 and eligible for marriage. All her compositions have been lost.
- Delia Derbyshire, an early pioneer of electronic music in 1960s England, arranged the original theme music for Doctor Who.
What can you do?
- Be aware that women’s erasure happens. This has been a societal norm for hundreds—if not thousands— of years, so constant self-assessment is crucial to catching unintended erasure.
- Give credit where credit is due.
- Teach our children and youth about the accomplishments of women: As cofounder of the Georgette Sand Collective Marguerite Nebelsztein states, “If we grow up with a history in which women are absent, and we do not study the work of a single female author or a single female scientist…it makes sense that we will end up thinking that there were not, are not, and will not be anyone other than men in history.” Representation matters to our youth. Teaching our next generation about the contributions of women not only empower our young girls to seek currently male-dominated careers, but also fosters respect and equity in young boys that understand the contributions of women around the world.
The Erasure Of Women And Their Contribution In History Needs To End
HBG Films Presents: The Matilda Effect, featuring Jan Eliasberg
The Matilda Effect
Why Aren’t We Making More Progress Towards Gender Equity?
We Must Rewrite Women’s Role in History
Hidden Figures (2016)
On the Basis of Sex (2018)
Gloria: In Her Own Words (2011)
Queen of Katwe (2016)
Margot Lee Shetterly
The Alice Network
The Sky Is for Everyone: Women Astronomers in Their Own Words
Edited by Virginia Trimble and David A. Weintraub
The World Made By Women: A History of Women From the Apple to the Pill (coming in 2023)
The History Chicks
The Other Half: The History of Women Through the Ages