Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Moonlighting and Soapboxing...

The last six weeks have been a whirlwind of fun and opportunity! In late December, I presented a historiography at Wright State University on the current scholarship regarding the female dressmaking and millinery trades in Progressive Era America. After, I was asked by Linda Morgan, a fellow researcher, if I would present my paper at the WSU Women's Center's First Annual Quilt Show in late January. Of course, I accepted! The quilt show was a wonderful success (Linda's hard work and dedication certainly paid off!), its purpose to highlight Ohio women's needlecraft and to garner financial support (grants and scholarships) for students wishing to enter into Women's Studies. From here, I was invited to speak at the Thirteenth Annual Women's Symposium on February 21 (last Friday), and I can't express what an honor it was to be involved in such a significant event. I was then asked to return and speak at the Fourteenth Annual Women's Symposium next year in a joint presentation with Linda. So excited! Who knew I'd moonlight as a presenter? 

In light of women's history, allow me to soapbox for a moment and say a bit about the current attitudes toward Women's Studies. I have heard certain social and celebrity commentators make snarky remarks regarding liberal arts education, and in particular areas of scholarship which focus on women's history. These commentators are invariably white men whose very sex and racial history have dominated the historical narrative since the birth of western education in the Middle Ages. We are quite familiar with the historical narratives of Anglo-European men (of men in general), their triumphs, their failures, their conquests, their memoirs, etc., etc., ad nauseam. This is not to say that the histories written by men are inaccurate or invaluable, however, it is the dominate historical perspective, and from a social perspective (where women, children, minorities, and other marginal groups are also present and whose stories have been told by those other than themselves), it is a historical perspective that is largely biased. 

But since the second wave of feminism in the 1960s, the traditional historical narrative has slowly been changing to reflect and include the stories of women (minorities, etc.). Histories have been recast, sometimes dramatically rewritten, but with great care and thoughtfulness. These changes in the historical narrative, altering what has been traditionally known, are not made lightly, they are often fraught with contention and take years of research and collaboration with historians across multiple disciplines. Critics of these changes to the historical narrative accuse historians and proponents of women's history of pushing a "leftist agenda" (whatever that means), as if women haven't been largely excluded from the historical narrative and when recognized treated as "help-mates" to history rather than history themselves! 

~John Stuart Mill~
The written narrative of Western History has been, by and large, a tightly censored endeavor, scrawled out in neat little chronological portraits, packaged in leather folios and journals, and controlled by an elitist club of white male literates. This isn't man-hating, this isn't white bashing, this is historical reality. Unfortunately, as handsome as this package is and as neatly as it is constructed, history is not neat. It can't be put in pretty little boxes, it is frustratingly complex and multidimensional, and compounded by many perspectives and experiences. The underlying point of historical scholarship is to understand us over time and space (or in a certain time and space), keeping in mind that us is not singular, and that ignoring the narratives of all but a minority faction of people (Anglo-European - or white - males, who only make up 6% of the world's population) is an egregious attempt to irradiate the meaningful existence and the historical contributions of the rest of the world's people. In this context, the human experience, as it is documented, is incomplete and inextricably false.

Now, as we encounter each minority commemorative month on the calender (Black History month in February, Women's History month in March, Native American History month in November, etc.), let's understand why these commemorations are significant and necessary to our historical narrative. Furthermore, as we transition into Women's History Month this weekend, it must be noted that if it were not for progressive thinking men (i.e. Frederick Douglass, John Stuart Mill, etc.) who openly identified with the oppression and subjugation of women and lobbied for women's rights, it is certain the plight of women would not have been lessened, laws in our favor would not have been passed, and our current state of relative freedom and equality would not have been realized. We womenfolk thank you. Now, to the quilt show and women's symposium (steps off box)...

Highlights from the Women's Quilt Show, January 30, 2014:

~The Emergence of Mother, artist Gail Gyan~

~Entangled, artist Gail Gyan~

~I Spy, artist Linda Morgan~

~Denim, artist Cheryl Nickoson~

~Underground Railroad blocks, history class project~

~Linda Morgan and Me~

My presentation and display at the quilt show:

WSU Women's Symposium, February 21, 2014:

Now that things have settled down, I can get back to normal and get back to sewing! I haven't touched my machines in weeks and I'm having terrible creative withdraw. I have a project list a mile long and new fabrics to play with - whoohoo!

Blessings and happy sewing!

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