History has a strange way of making the world seem simultaneously vast and small; old and new. Perspective always has a way of changing the way you see the world, and, like an optical illusion, you’re never able to grasp the full picture at the same time. Look too closely and you miss the big picture. Grasp the big picture and you miss the interesting details.
I was given a little bit of perspective not that long ago when I volunteered to help with Tribe Table @ Bentonville Film Festival and got to listen in on the stories of women in the film industry while they were interviewed by Tribe of Women founder, Amy Robinson. One guest talked about how women have only been “allowed” to have credit cards within the past 40 years. Another talked about her previous work experience as a sales associate in the late 1990’s and how she was only allowed (that word again) to work on a sale up to a certain dollar amount, at which time a man would have to come and finish the deal.
Shock… Then Awe
I was shocked. Not only because they didn’t think that women didn’t have financial rights, or that someone who had done all of the work to get a sale to where it was, could suddenly not seal the deal, but that this occurred the past few decades, and within my lifetime.
And thus, out of curiosity and a desire to understand and contextualize the progress of women in history, I was inspired to develop my own timeline, “A Brief History of Women’s Independence”. I wanted to remind myself of just how recent the rights I often take for granted were won. In particular, I wanted to give myself a little bit of perspective on women’s rights – how far we have progressed, how much we can accomplish in mere decades, and how far we still have to go.
I cannot stress enough that this is a brief and biased history (as is most history). In honor of the 4th of July, I decided to focus only on women’s independence in the U.S. beginning in the 1770’s. Even with this shortened time frame, I’ve missed a lot. For example, I didn’t include the still current #MeToo movement or that there’s a record number of women running for office – that history is still being written. One of the biggest things missing from this timeline is the social attitudes and prejudices. For example, I would be surprised to find in any of my history books the limits and discrimination of financial rights for women, or the year women they were finally allowed to finish the sales they started. Or maybe it hasn’t happened yet? At least for some.
So, while this exercise has helped put things in perspective for me, I realize it is only my perspective – a young woman in the United States of America perspective – and that there are other perspectives to add and stories to be told. Societal attitudes and prejudices have a much more mercurial nature than laws and history portray. When looking through textbooks it’s easy to find when a law, such as voting rights for women, was enacted. However, when society’s attitude changes to accept the underlying premise of that law, that “Women should be treated as equals to men,” – is not so easy to pinpoint. Maybe because we haven’t arrived at that point in herstory. At least not everyone. At least not yet.
History is organized by numbers, but it’s perpetuated by stories. Only through storytelling do we learn about others, ourselves, and our world.
Like I said, this timeline is biased. I leafed through history and picked out things that interested me, but the timeline is missing stories that I can’t tell, a depth that I can’t add. Within one of our pillars at Tribe of Women is “Tribe Stories” – the place where we connect. And that’s what we ask from you, our readers. Any stories you have, of how women’s rights or societal attitudes have changed (or have not changed), of yourself or of others, we urge you to share, to write, to tell. Your stories are part of the narrative of herstory lived and that is still being written.
What historical events do you think should have been included? What stories or memories do you have of historical changes in laws or in attitudes? What are you celebrating this 4th of July? Please share in the comments below, post on the social media thread where you found this blog, or send it to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with “Independent Women” in the subject line.