Writing Women Back Into History

On Monday I told you the story of Sybil Luddington, a Revolutionary War hero who has been all but erased from history. We all know who has written the history books, and how that has resulted in men getting to tell their version of events. But there are two sides to every story. Part of changing our relationship with power means that it’s time for women to reclaim our history, and write ourselves back into the history books.

Shelby Knox took some time to speak with me at my book launch last week about a woman who has inspired her: suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage. Take a look at what Shelby has to say about Gage’s contributions to women’s history.

What women from history have inspired you? Whose shoulders are you standing on? I’d love to hear your stories in the comments section.

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Power Tool #1: Know Your History

Women’s history is the primary tool of their emancipation. ~Gerda Lerner

This week I’d love to know your thoughts about the first of the 9 Ways power tools, “Know your history and you can create the future of your choice.” Do you agree with that statement?

I wrote it because women have been all but written out of history. Yet we are always everywhere giving birth to everyone and doing all kinds of important things despite barriers.

Take the story of Sybil Luddington. At age sixteen, on April 26, 1777, Sybil rode through towns in New York and Connecticut warning that the British were coming. She gathered enough volunteers to beat back the British army the next day, and her ride was twice as long as Paul Revere’s. Yet, unless you live in the small Connecticut town named for her, it’s doubtful you’ve ever heard of her. Sometimes she is called the “female Paul Revere” but couldn’t he just as well be called “the male Sybil Luddington?”

How many women did you learn about in high school history classes? Bet you can count them on one hand without using all your fingers. So here’s your chance to rectify that. Tell 9 Ways readers (and me) about a woman or women in history that you feel wasn’t given her due by the history books.

We’re going to be talking about these questions all week. I’m looking forward to your thoughts and stories.

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I Myself Am The Lathe

Introductory note from Gloria: When you write a book, you never know how who will read it or what impression it might make. Imagine how moved I was to stumble across this post by someone I had never met and read her words about how No Excuses had inspired her. Elin Stebbins Waldal really takes the power tools to heart . . . read on and see.

A Twitter post has got me thinking today.

Although I have not met Gloria Feldt—I almost feel I have. After perusing her website and reading a few of her blogs—I feel it in my bones, there is a common ground that we stand on.

I happened upon her Twitter feed this morning and opened her link and read this:

“In No Excuses, I say women don’t yet know what to do with the power everyone else knows we have. That the time has come for women to embrace that power. What are your thoughts? What examples in your own life or your observations about others makes you think this is or is not women’s moment?” –Gloria Feldt

It’s quite possible that I have read Gloria’s question above about a thousand times, seriously, at least a thousand…or that is how it feels. I should state first that I have not read her book, No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Poweryet.

I have however, read her 9 Power Tools, love that—power tools, makes me feel as if I have a Lathe at my disposal—or is it that I myself am the Lathe, capable of re-shaping anything beginning with the way I think about power.

Yes, I myself am the Lathe.

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The Time Has Come For Women to Embrace Their Power

Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win an Academy Award for best director—for The Hurt Locker which also won best picture of 2009—stood holding her two Oscars, looking completely flustered. Seeing her under the spotlight, one coveted golden statue grasped in each fist, I was struck by how accurately she mirrored where women in the United States stand today. We’ve got the evidence of success in our hands, and everyone in the world seems to be looking on, but we don’t quite know what to do about it.

There are more ironies in this picture. Bigelow’s film is a raw, violent portrayal of the war in Iraq, with no women as major characters—hardly a chick flick, despite some interpretations that it puts a feminist lens on masculinity and the senseless violence of combat. Yet it did not go unnoticed that Bigelow herself is gorgeous, gracious, and above all says not one word about the fact that she is a woman—indeed, she seems even more flustered when the obvious is called to her attention by inquiring journalists.

That she wasn’t the first of her gender but the fourth to be nominated—the first was Lina Wertmuller in 1976—similarly speaks to both the progress women have made and the newness of our tangible triumphs. After eighty-two years of Oscars and over four hundred best director nominees, presenter Barbra Streisand was finally able to pronounce upon opening the envelope, “The time has come.” Without question, the time has come. That’s why No Excuses is foremost a book about hope and possibility. But it is also an urgent call to action.

I wrote these opening paragraphs of No Excuses in a fit of passion while watching the Academy Awards. They were actually among the last words I wrote. It took a year to crystallize the metaphor that felt exactly right.

Nick Kristof and Sheryl DuWunn say the moral imperative of the 21st Century is the empowerment of women in their book Half the Sky. Marketers know women buy 85% of all consumer goods and thus hold the reins of their success or failure. McKinsey and Co. studies find that companies that have larger numbers of women on their leadership teams have better returns on investment. The public generally trust women candidates more than men.

In No Excuses, I say women don’t yet know what to do with the power everyone else knows we have. That the time has come for women to embrace that power. What are your thoughts? What examples in your own life or your observations about others makes you think this is or is not women’s moment?

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Announcing 9 Ways in 9 Weeks: The No Excuses Way To Embrace Your Power

Women make 78 cents for every $1 men earn? The gap is even greater for unmarried women, who make 58 cents for every $1 men earn, and for women of color, who earn 1/3 less than men. Women spend 80% of US consumer dollars. Yet they make up only 15% of corporate boardrooms where decisions are made about what will be sold to consumers. Women are the majority of voters in the US, but just 17% of Congress. There are many reason for these imbalances. But frankly, there are No Excuses any more.

Please join me in the new discussion of “9 Ways in 9 Weeks: The No Excuses Way to Embrace Your Power.” In the coming weeks, we’ll be exploring each of the 9 Ways or power tools I discuss in No Excuses. I’ll post about one of the 9 Ways each week, and I invite you to share your ideas, thoughts, and especially your stories about that power tool in your own life. There will be new video clips each week too, and other new materials and bonus items not necessarily found in the book.

This week I’m most eager to know your thoughts about these knotty (not naughty!) questions:

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Panel at Netroots Nation 2010 on Why Women Are Key to Victory

Netroots Nation is the premier conference for progressive bloggers. So I’m totally thrilled that they accepted my proposal to facilitate a panel on “Why Women Are the Key to the Future of Progressive Election Victories.”

As the GOP has garnered victories in Massachussetts, Virginia and New Jersey since the 2008 presidential election, progressives are looking for a new path to keep the seats they have and win back the ones they’ve lost. Standard playbook assumptions about where, how and why progressives can win campaigns have been turned on their head as increasing numbers of voters feel disaffected and Tea Partiers throw wild cards into many races. Progressive women can embrace this moment to help move the progressive agenda forward. But too often the Democratic Party fails to recruit and support the very women candidates who could be game changers for progressive politics. We’ll discuss how the growing numbers of activist women—and organizations devoted to helping them participate in politics and political leadership—can help reconnect voters with important progressive economic and gender issues. And we’ll analyze how to access the untapped power of women who want to make a difference for progressive issues and what it will take to get them elected.

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Copyright 2010 Gloria Feldt