Fighting with the Sky

Posts Tagged ‘history

Feminist science fiction books and entertainment are definitely still around, but did you know that feminist science fiction got its start at the beginning of the 20th century?

This sub-genre of writing uses science fiction to explore the meaning of gender norms and sexism in society.  It often deals with how society constructs gender norms, the role reproduction plays in defining gender norms and power differences between men and women, and how and why sexism is prevalent in society.  Most often, feminist science fiction portrays these issues through utopias or dystopias.  In a utopia, the writer shows a world without gender differences or gender power imbalances.  Whereas in a dystopia, the write exaggerates gender and power differences to show the need to fight against sexism.

As far back as 1818, Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein tackled issues of asexual creation of new life in a re-telling of the Adam and Eve Story.  Some examples of utopian feminist science fiction that tackled sexism around the time of first wave feminism are: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and The Sultana’s Dream byRoquia Sakhawat Hussain.  Writers such as Clare Winger Harris and Gertrude Barrows Bennett wrote science fiction stories from female perspectives and often dealt with issues of sexuality.

It’s a shame that this outbreak of feminist science fiction in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is not as well-known in the mainstream.  The stereotype of women during this time (and later, even today sometimes) was that they were silent.  Women didn’t really know much about what was going on and what was being done to them by society.  But these feminist science fiction texts are proof that women were fighting back against sexism and gender norms.  Most feminists know this, but the mainstream is still largely unaware.  Even today, science fiction is understood to be the male writers (and consumers) realm.  Men write science fiction, not women.

Disclaimer: most of my information for this post I found on Wikipedia.


41HCZBA791L._SS500_When Women Ask the Questions by Marilyn Jacoby Boxer

This truly is a Women’s Studies book.  In my Senior Seminar for Women’s and Gender Studies, we examined Women’s Studies as a field of study, questioned if it was a discipline, and looked at the role that it played in a university/college.  The main text for this class (in addition to many articles and chapters) was When Women Ask the Questions by Marilyn Jacoby Boxer.  This text looks at the history and development of Women’s Studies.

From the back cover:

In When Women Ask the Questions, Marilyn Boxer traces the successes and failures of women’s stuides, examines the field’s enduring impact on the world of higher education, and concludes that the rise of women’s studies has challenged the university in the same way that feminism has challenged society at large.

Drawing on her experiences as a historian, feminist, academic administrator, and former chair of a women’s studies program, Boxer observes that by working for justice – and for changes necessary to make the attainment of justice a practical possibility – women’s studies ensures that women are heard in the process and places where knowledge is created, taught, and preserved.

As opposed to studying the history of feminism or the women’s movement, Boxer is looking at the history of women’s studies.  Certainly the history and development of the field of women’s studies is intertwined with feminism and “the” women’s movement, but women’s studies has a history of its own.  This is an important read for anyone invested in the field of women’s studies, whether some who is or has majored in it, professors, or just academically-minded feminists.  But I think this book is also important for people who might not be invested in women’s studies but are interested in the history of women.  This book is not so much about key moments or dates in women’s studies but about how women’s studies came about and developed because of the strong women leading it.

Taking_woodstockTaking Woodstock is definitely an interesting movie.  It is based on the true story of a young man, Elliot (Demetri Martin), who’s parents own a small, run-down motel in upstate New York.  Elliot offered his parents motel to the people planning Woodstock in 1969 as a place to set up headquarters close to the area that the festival was to take place.  I was no where near being alive during this time period.  And all  I know about Woodstock is from what my parents have talked about (they weren’t there, but they remember when it happened, especially my dad) in terms of some of the performers and lots of drugs and nudity.

Being that I don’t know a whole lot about the time period and Woodstock, I think that the movie did a good job at placing the viewer in the historical time period.  There is a lot of attention given to the feelings of the townspeople (and society in general) about “those damned hippies” as well as the political atmosphere surrounding the Vietnam War.  One of the main characters is Billy (played by Emile Hirsch) who is a Vietnam War veteran dealing with post-traumatic stress and horrifying, violenct flashbacks.  No one really knows how to deal with him and he spends most of his time getting high.  And there are some really sweet moments between Billy and Elliot when Billy starts to remember both who he was before the war and who he was during the war.

A lot of the humor of the movie (of which there is a lot) comes from the stereotypical images of hippies.  I can’t say for sure if this is what it was like at Woodstock or during this time period, but the hippies in Taking Woodstock provided a lot of humor.  This humor mainly came from the reactions of the townspeople to hippies…that they were going to come to the town high on drugs and steal everything, instead of, you know, actually coming to experience the music and the festival in a peaceful manner.

A good amount of the humor also came from Elliot’s parents.  Both of his parents were very hardworking.  I was a little unnerved that his parents were represented as stereotypical Jews who hoarded money and brought up the Holocaust all the time.  But the movie also showed how their family was persecuted in some instances in this small community in upstate New York.  A lot of the humor that Elliot’s parents provided had to do with them chasing people around for either being nude, harassing them or their guests, etc.

There were a couple of things that I wish they would have paid more attention to.  First was the character Vilma.  Vilma is a transwoman who is a Korean War veteran.  Vilma did play a prominent role in the second half of the movie.  She was hired for security around the motel.  At one point, Elliot asks Vilma: “does my dad know what you are?”  In response to this, Vilma says “I know what I am, that’s all that matters” (or something of the like, I can’t remember exactly).  I really would have liked this to have been explored further, but I guess the movie was long enough already.

The other think that I wish they would have paid more attention to was Elliot’s relationship with the construction worker (sorry, I can’t remember his name right now).  We didn’t know until halfway through the movie that Elliot was gay (even though you could kind of tell by the way that he was interacting with this guy) until these two kissed on the dance floor and then there is a scene where they wake up in bed together.  I feel as if because we didn’t know he was gay until this point, he was just coming to discover his sexuality.  But then again, his sexuality is not really central to the story of the movie.  I just wish there would have been more attention paid to this relationship because the movie is also kind of about Elliot discovering himself in the process of planning Woodstock.

This was definitely a unique movie.  It was not only funny but did a great job at showing some integral part of the time period such as the “hippie movement” and the Vietnam War.

Yes, American Girl dolls are still around. But they’ve changed. Here I am talking about the original American Girl dolls, the one that promoted women’s history. A post at Small Strokes reminded me of how much I loved the American Girl dolls growing up:

Remember when there were only a few of them before they were a multi-million dollar national company? Those dolls were so popular among girls because they had their own historical timeline, and the timeline that was taught in schools was just a backdrop to each doll’s stories.

For me, part of feminism is promoting the history of people who are not normally seen in the history books, especially the history of women. I definitely see the American Girl dolls as a part of feminist history, because they had sadly moved away from promoting women’s history to profiting off “modern” dolls (For the purposes of this post, I will be discussing American Girl dolls before the introduction American Girl Today).

When I was growing up, I had the American Girl Samantha (and I was shocked to discover that Samantha is no longer made!). Samantha was an orphan girl growing up in 1904 (she was the Victorian era doll) by her wealthy grandmother in New York. She befriends the “poor servant girl,” Nellie and is eventually adopted, along with Nellie and Nellie’s sisters, by her aunt and uncle. Samantha’s books included themes of women’s suffrage, child labor, and classism.

Back when I was playing with American Girl dolls (in the early – mid 90s), the dolls that were made were Kirsten, Samantha, and Molly; Addy was just being introduced; and towards the end of my time playing with them, the American Girl Today line was starting (I remember getting one from this line that looked like me). American Girl was focused on bringing the history of these girls to “life,” so to speak.

As Ashley from Small Strokes said in the quote above, the American Girl dolls because the highlighted a feminist timeline for girls that only had the mainstream historical timeline as a backdrop. Incorporating women’s history into the mainstream historical timeline (as the American Girl dolls tried to do) is important in fighting the erasure of women. If young girls can’t look back in history and see someone that resembled themselves, they might not feel as if they have a place in society or that society does not value them as much. For dolls and books that were targeted towards young girls, American Girl took on some very important issues, such as classism, women’s suffrage (both in the case of Samantha) as well as slavery, racism, and war.

The American Girls dolls were an important part of my childhood. But they were definitely not perfect. For one thing, the American Girls dolls were definitely a sign of status. As the American Girl dolls have grown, there has been an increase in diversity. I’m not familiar with the newer dolls, so I’m not sure how issues of racism, classism, etc. are handle in these doll’s stories. I do like that they are trying to provide a role model for girls of diverse backgrounds. But the dolls are not readily available to young girls of all backgrounds because of various constraints, including price. The American Girl dolls are expensive, especially once you get all the clothes, accessories, and books that go with your American Girl. I loved Samantha and I wouldn’t have given her up. But I think that it is also important to integrate non-mainstream historical timelines into children’s lives. While dolls were a great way to do this for me and many other children, it wasn’t for others.

Incorporating women’s history into childhood development is very important to raising awareness about the erasure and oppression of women. I think that the American Girl dolls do a good job at this for the age range that they are marketed towards. The books tackle issues that children’s books do not always handle because of the seriousness of the issues, which I think is great. Exposing children to these issues at a young age encourages the fighting of oppression at later ages. The American Girl dolls of my childhood (pre-American Girl Today) brought women’s history to the forefront for children and encouraged children to think about important issues.

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Today, August 26, is Women’s Equality Day. On this day in 1920, women gained the right to vote with the signing of the 19th Amendment. Everyone should do at least one thing to honor Women’s Equality Day and women gaining the right to vote. Me? I’m not entirely sure yet, it’s still early for me. Something simple to do for the busy person is just to reflect on what it means that women gained the right to vote on this day, 72 years after the women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls. You could also read some women’s history.

On this day, it is also important to remember Senator Ted Kennedy. Sen. Kennedy died at age 77 shortly before midnight last night. The ‘liberal lion’ was a champion for health care, working wages, and equal rights. Organizations like NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU hailed Sen. Kennedy for his work in Congress. Sen. Kennedy was definitely a feminist ally and woman’s ally.

We should treat everyday as Women’s Equality Day. We should be working towards equality everyday. I cannot see Women’s Equality Day as remembering when women gained equality, because that has not happened yet. While it is important to remember our past and honor the signing of the 19th Amendment and the Seneca Falls convention, it’s also important to remember that we have not reached equality and fight for equality in our everyday lives.

Further Reading:
Celebrate Women’s Equality Day on Aug. 26 [Spare Candy]


Feminist Flashback Friday is a feature that focuses on a feminist piece of history every Friday. This “piece of history” can be a person, event, character, movie, tv show, etc. The goal of Feminist Flashback Friday is to help connect the past (whether in historical events or entertainment or what have you) with the present and on to the future.

Amelia Earhart (July 24, 1897 – missing July 2, 1937, declared dead January 5, 1939)

Amelia Earhart: aviatrix, writer…feminist icon?

Everyone knows about Amelia Earhart’s attempt to circumnavigate the wold and her disappearance. Not as well known (despite the numerous biographies) is the feminist role model side of Earhart…other than just being the first women to do stuff (I don’t mean to sound flippant here, this is really important and I will get into it later).

Amelia’s mother raised her and her sister to not be “nice little girls.” They played outside and wore bloomers unlike the other girls in their area. She was the adventurous type who would much rather be outside. Her first experience with flying was when she secured a ramp to the top of the family toolshed, went off it in a sled, and came out of it with a “sensation of exhiliration.”

When she first started flying, she had to work to save the $1000 for flying lessons. At first, seasoned pilots critiqued her flying skills, but she was determined. She continued training and honing her skills as a pilot. She gradually gained the respect of fellow pilots after years of proving herself. She eventually became the first president of The Ninety-Nines, an organization of female pilots.

Did you know that Amelia Earhart was also a writer? She wrote numerous books about her flying experiences. She was also an associate editor at Cosmopolitan magazine (isn’t that weird, in a good way?). She used this platform to campaign for greater public acceptance of aviation, especially for women entering the field.

She was the frist woman to go on a solo flight across North America and back in August 1928. She was the first woman to complete a solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in May 1932. At this point she was gaining national fame. She used her notority as a platform for increasing the awareness of women in aviation.

She did eventually marry a man named George P. Putnam. She described her marriage as a “partnership” with a “dual control.” She demanded respect from her husband.

In 1937, she was the first to attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Sadly, her plane disappeared towards the beginning of the journey around Howland Island.

Amelia Earhart was an advocate for women’s issues, especially surrounding women in aviation. She was the first woman to solo fly acorss the Atlantic, the first woman to recieve the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first president of The Ninety-Nines, the first to attempt to circumnavigate the globe. She was a powerful woman who wasn’t afraid to reach for her dreams and didn’t back down.

Even today (as of 2006), only 6% of civilian pilots were women (Wikipedia). Aviation is still a field that is hard for women to break in to. But it’s great that there is this role model, not only in the field of aviation, but for all women reaching for their dreams. Sadly, I don’t think Amelia Earhart would be as remembered and well-known (despite her numerous achievements) today if she had not disappeared, never to be seen again. But just because her fame comes from these unfortunate circumstanes does not mean that she can’t be a feminist icon.

I honestly did not know a whole lot about the life of Amelia Earhard before I started doing research or this post (most of which was done on Wikipedia). I knew she was a feminist icon, but now I want to do even more research and read some biographies of her. There is even a biopic coming out soon about the life of Amelia Earhart (starring Hillary Swank, who is amazing). Here is a trailer for it, it looks really good:

There is a common belief among feminists today (the Third Wave, I dare say), that the women’s movement of the 70s was a monolithic entity that was solely for white women. The “second wave” of feminism is often critiqued for this fact, among others. It should also be pointed out that many people have this same belief about feminism today. But feminism today is certainly NOT monolithic.

But this is not necessarily the case. The view that feminists today have of “the” women’s movement of the 70s is more to serve themselves than an accurate view of what feminism is the 70s was like. While there are certainly things that feminism in the 70s can be criticized for, it wasn’t this monolithic entity that it is perceived to be.

And no one points this out better than Ruth Rosen in her book The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America. I read this book for my feminist theory class my senior year of college. It’s a great history of “the” women’s movement and how “the” women’s movement still affects the world today. From the back cover of the book:

Rosen’s fresh look at the recent past reveals that feminists never burned their bras but were haunted by aprons; that black women supported the movement more than their white counterparts; and that the FBI hired hundreds of women to inflitrate the movement. Using extensive archival research and interviews, Rosen challenges readers to understand the impact of the women’s movement and why the revolution is far from over.

I am firm believer in the old adage that you need to know where you have been to know where you are going. I think it is important for feminists today to fully understand how the movement has progressed to get us where we are today and to where we want to go in the future. We have to know what techniques have worked in the past and how we can modify those techniques to work today.

Rosen’s book is a great look at the women’s movement from the 1960s to the present. If you are interested in the history of the women’s movement, it is a must read. But even if you are a feminist activist but don’t have a specific interest in history, it is still a worth while read because it helps us look at how we got to where we are today and where we want to go in the future.

How does history factor into your view and practice of feminism?