The problem with feminism is that it makes everything an us-against-them competition.
The vast majority of men and women worked together, side by side, throughout history because their survival depended on each other. Women who were often pregnant and with multiple young children were dependent on a man to protect and provide. Men could survive without women, but without children they had no future.
Most men were powerless and toiled relentlessly to an early grave. Women toiled in the fields besides their husbands and many died in childbirth.
As usual, Dr Jordan Peterson’s views on these aspect of history are worth listening to.
I’m glad that someone pointed this out; ordinary, non-elite men and women were mostly in the same boat, continually bailing to keep it afloat and struggling against the tide and head-winds.
Good article and very important to push back on the tendency – to which this era has reverted – of imposing contemporary prejudices and agendas on interpretations of the past. However “Men have been the powerful and the privileged for so long”, should read “the powerful and the privileged have been men for so long”.
Yes, and if I could just develop that point a little:
Exactly. This distinction is inevitably misunderstood or forgotten. It’s all about the difference in the tails of the distributions; male being wider in most things means most of the very top are male.
Do we therefore have the same sort of patchy history (per the reviewers piece) of poor men as we do of poor women?
“Everybody else gets pushed around by the… powerful” – our media and academia bully us into believing things that aren’t true or at least to know that we must keep quiet!
“Men have been the powerful and the privileged for so long”, should read “the powerful and the privileged have been men for so long”
A subtle but very important distinction of wording.
“The powerful men have been the powerful and the privileged for so long”. The vast majority of men, of course, like the slightly vaster majority of women, are equally invisible as individuals.
“In the case of the Loftus Princess, buried in a seventh-century grave where bone, wood, and fabric have disintegrated, her jewels — including one large pendant set in gold, with a scallop-shaped garnet surrounded by rows of gemstones — indicate both her status and, probably, her gender.”
Gender?? Haha! Even the tiniest bone fragment can likely tell her SEX.
Why would anyone care about this person’s sex, when we are still trying to work out their gender?
XX chromosome person
I think the entire notion of patriarchy is simplistic BS.
It’s not BS. It simply means “rule by fathers”, which has come to mean men in general, and for better or worse that has been the practise for millenia – whether it still is, is a moot point.
I think harry forgot to add the quote marks. You are quite right in that the traditional historical definition of patriarchy is “rule by fathers”, which of course is historically valid and undeniable.
Instead I suspect he means (insert cynical quotes) “the patriarchy” which of course is currently deployed widely in society and cultural discourse as a critical label for everything the woke and progressive dislike about masculinities, capitalism, science and maths, reason and logic etc etc.
In short, harry I think is not impressed by the universal and blanket attribution of negativity to everything connected somehow with the roles of men.
I interpret he rejects the notion of masculinity as being a sort of un-redeemable original sin and the cultural program of denying and rejecting the possibility of worthwhile masculine values. And if so, I’m with you harry!
Yes, patriarchal rule is not “the patriarchy,” which may as well be “the Illuminati.”
Very good exposition of the ideological concept.
Neither is there any recognition of the underlying evolutionary tendencies and physiologies that, on average, predispose both sexes to form particular group behaviours and their consequent interactions..
Is it not the case though, that pushing notions of patriarchy too far actually serves to cancel women’s influence; ironically painting them as victims with no voice?
I agree; it promotes that insidious idea of “victimhood”, removing all agency from a particular group. Having said that, most of Western society was patriarchical and women had to operate within it – some succeeded within it e.g. Eleanor of Aquitaine, and some managed to keep their heads above the water whilst most just got on with life as best they could.
E of A spent much her life locked up for being a scheming ‘witch’ did she not?
The paterfamilias, as ‘you know who’ would have it.
In anthropological theory, yes, it means rule by fathers. That’s a purely descriptive definition that relies primarily on kinship and lineage systems (which don’t necessarily favor all or even most men). In feminist ideology, however, the word has been appropriated to mean a primordial or universal conspiracy of men to oppress women. There’s a huge difference.
BS is the glue that holds a narrative together.
I mean, I don’t buy it in the context of this article, but the quip is clever, and I plan to use it in the future!
And where is the proof that women embroidered the Bayeux tapestries!? In times past men often engaged in textile production & decoration. Any claim is just supposition.
That is exactly the sort of comment I’m here for. Thanks.
Wasn’t it common for men to weave and knit wool in the Scottish Islands.
Rewriting history to fit modern day narratives is, IMHO, nothing short of fraud.
A recent cultural example of this was the Elvis movie that is currently in the cinema. Most people watching that will assume it all to be true, if maybe slightly embellished. After watching it I was left suspicious of some of the key moments such as:
– the racially segragated crowd riot where Elvis was dragged off stage by police after one song.
– the Christmas special where bad boy Elvis did a whole different ending song than the producers had agreed with a different costume and set.
– the sacking of his manager live on stage in Las Vagas.
These were all key moments and turning points in the movie, but none of them are true. They’re all made up or massively exaggerated and skewed versions of something else that did happen.
The problem is that hundreds of millions will watch the movie and will believe what they saw. They may repeat to others how Elvis played to an audience divided by skin colour (a rope between the blacks and whites), who rioted after just one song. Good story for today’s BLM narrative, but a lie. And there were countless created events in the movie.
I’m sure there were embellishments in the recent Queen and Elton John movie, but both seemed to be accurate on the major events.
Doing this to Elvis is one thing, as he and the Colonel are both dead, but rewriting our ancestral history is very worrying. If you do it a little it starts make one question everything about history.
That said, it is good to see some effort to add women into the history books, just as it is to add non European related history into our history books. Just don’t embellish it or make it up completely to fit the current cause of the day.
I haven’t seen this film and I know very little about Elvis Presley’s life anyway, so I wouldn’t notice errors(?) distortions(?; but individuals and periods about which I do know a lot have appeared in films and TV programmes with massive, not to put it too strongly, lies. I have often complained about this only to be told, it just a docu-drama or fictionalised version, it’s not to be taken literally. However, unfortunately many people do take it as the truth. A very simple example is that of slaves who rowed Roman ships – I have asked those who insist that this is true where they got their information and invariably it was from Ben-Hur. It’s always wise to ask people two simple questions (I can’t remember where I saw this advice – it could even have been on this site):
1 Who told you this?
2 Why do you believe him/her?
Your example of Ben Hur is perfect. That is how easy it is to rewrite history and very few people question it. Eventually it become ‘the truth’.
“Your eyes are full of hate 41 that’s good, HATE keeps a man alive, it gives him strength”
You can add the whole narrative of WW2 to the list
Another is the contention regarding the building of the Great Pyramid of Khufu(Cheops) at Giza.
Recent discoveries of preserved papyrus scrolls at the oldest known port installation at Wadi El-Jarf on the Red Sea Coast, point to the building of the Great Pyramid as written by a foreman of one of the construction teams tasked with obtaining materials. Linked to this was the discovery of the village complex near the Pyramid, that housed the builders. Evidence from these artefacts points to well cared for, healthy and skilled work men and women and their families, not slaves.
This is all documented in the book The Red Sea Scrolls.
I heard some claim that Bohemian Rhapsody suffered from bisexual erasure, but on watching it I wasn’t so sure. Mercury’s life story in general – as commonly understood – does often seem to suffer from that, though.
In these days when male homosexuality seems more ‘fashionable’ (possibly a poor choice of word) it was maybe easier to portray Freddie as gay rather than bisexual. Maybe it is about time the male version of B in LGBT+ got a bit more spotlight on it.
“A fifth of Viking warriors were women”
Sure they were.
I think what we have is that 20% of those buried in “cemeteries” with men from the “Great Heathen Army” were women. It could be that they were warriors, it could be that they were camp-followers, it could be that they were just the women that were in the area that the Army conquered and were used as slaves, or it could be another explaination. To instantly jump to the first of these explanations, based on no additional evidence, is bad scholarship, something that was hammered into me at the very start of my studies of history. I remember being in a tutorial where we were divided into groups one of which was to “prove” that Richard III killed the princes in the tower, another that it was someone else, one to “prove” that he was hunched-back, and the fourth that he was not. We had to use real evidence for our position, but it was not necessary to present evidence that was contrary to our position – it was amazing what you could “prove” with selective evidence.
The balance of probability is, to use a technical term, that most of that 20% were ‘belly warmers’.
Well put. I raised a similar objection above, to the 10th century Birka burial being labelled a female ‘warrior’. Female yes, but ‘warrior’ also falls into your To instantly jump to the first of these explanations, based on no additional evidence, is bad scholarship, …
I wish more historians (and journalists) followed that creed.
Similarly the young girl “Warrior” came from a warrior society, and was likely high status. As such even if she was not a warrior she would likely be buried with the panoply of a great hero.
Yeah I thought that too. Camp followers. Undermined the whole article, which was making valid points, when the writer makes such suppositions. I can’t be bothered vetting an article for credibility once I see such an extrapolated assumption.
When I was at school, I was disappointed because the the history O level syllabus was pretty much the Second World War. For me, WWII was not history, it was omnipresent: every adult had their story, evacuation, rationing, wounds, lost limbs, trips to far away places. I yearned to learn more of the distant past. I was told WWII was not only on the O level but also on the A level syllabus because it was extremely important we understood the causes of the war so it would never happen again. There was no suggestion of propaganda just a desperate need to know. I find contemporary feminist history a form of attention seeking. I am a mathematician. I was told there are two types of mathematician, the ones to whom it is important to attach names to theorems and the other to who the name is unimportant, the content of the theorem is what matters. I was also told some mathematicians believe mathematics is created others that it is discovered. For me names are unimportant and maths is discovered. Most contributors to the development of maths have been forgotten. Who invented zero? I think there are far too many academics, contributing nothing of worth and desperate to have their papers published and their names known. I think truth is far more interesting, and good historians don’t interpret the past in terms of the present but genuinely try to understand the past and the way people thought and felt. A dear friend of mine, who sadly died at the age of 93, was chosen as a feminist poster girl. Her life story, the facts, was appropriate for their propaganda campaign but the woman’s thoughts and beliefs were far from feminist: she believed men should earn more than women as they had a family to support, she was never a feminist trailblazer, she would far rather have married, given up work and had children but there was a shortage of men, and those men who had survived the war that she met did not find her attractive. She believed the greatest joy and achievement for a woman was to have the love of her own family. She voluntarily retired because there was no promotion only dead mens shoes – her words. The act was altruistic. She enjoyed her work and missed it after retiring. She was head of the department but felt she ought to give someone younger the opportunity of heading the department. Her retirement set in motion a long string of promotions. She felt guilt because she drew a very good pension for more years than she worked. Her degree was in history and she delighted in learning about the great men of history.
I think truth is far more interesting, and good historians don’t interpret the past in terms of the present but genuinely try to understand the past and the way people thought and felt.
Music to my ears. Moral presentism in particular is a plague upon an understanding of the past.
Moral presentism is a new one on me. I have noticed a tendency amongst some historians to invent a story about the past and then morally condemn their creation. I think they enjoy the accompanying sense of moral superiority. I think there are always the hangers on. In the past, the church was high status and full of people who had no vocation but enjoyed nothing more than finding fault with/ judging their neighbour. Now it is academia that is awash with people who have no genuine academic inclination and the consequences are the attempts at closing down free speech and finding white supremacists in the cupboard. I believe there is nothing new under the sun. In the words of the genius T S Elliot – the wheel turns and is forever still. Human nature is a constant. Same people different setting. The giants of literature never date precisely because they saw deep enough into the human condition to identify the constants.
Moral presentism, also known as retrospective bigoteering. It is the well-spring of anachronism. A truly insidious method of weaponising the past for political purposes in the present.
Oh. I didn’t know there was a word for it. Thank you.
Suzannah Lipscomb has produced yet another interesting article. Inevitably our view of the past is filtered through the lens of our present preoccupations. This only becomes harmful if history is distorted to meet modern ideologies. This danger has occurred in the the case of the history of slavery that has been distorted to meet modern ideological aims and could occur in relation to feminist ideology.
I agree that the author of this article presents a salutary reminder that our view of history is often through our present preoccupations.
It seems to me, though, that her worldview is very much in the grip of present preoccupations too.
History is being rewritten as ‘decolonised’ and ‘less Eurocentric.’ This is made apparent in my field, the Middle Ages. One example is the ‘Global Middle Ages’ approach which reanalyses medieval history through the perspective of say, China and globalisation. Not everyone who uses this approach is like this and it’s not necessarily bad – but there are foul actors here with poor intentions.
Another nitpick is when medieval authors are morphed and manipulated into proto-Reformation or Enlightenment figures. If anyone had any doubts on the then-hegemonic Catholic medieval church, there’s a rush to align them with Protestant and Enlightenment thought. Seen it with Dante. I kinda get this – many snuff the Middle Ages as inferior and full of dumbos. But it is a bit of a stretch, imo.
I don’t object to any historian having his or her own niche. But when it’s expected of others and enforced in teaching, yeah, there’s an issue. I also take issue when standards of scholarship are dropped in the name of an agenda. One awful book is “The Bright Ages” which was released recently. Unfortunately, medievalists are too busy gatekeeping their field to white nationalists than doing actual research.
I am reading an excellent book by Rachel Fulton Brown. Personally, I don’t think the dark ages were so dark and much has been lost and needs to be revisited. I have read Dante, sadly not in the original as I don’t speak Italian. I have read purgatory at least three times and would highly recommend it to anyone who wants to try and understand human nature. Dorothy L Sayers (best translation in my opinion) describes it as the greatest work on human psychology ever written. For her, the translation was a labour of love.
Very odd. My comment has not appeared. I named two outstanding female scholars of the medieval era. One is dead. Could it be the other has been accused of white nationalism? Can you support the comment about white nationalism?
It’s appeared. I wonder what the trigger word was.
Being a little cheeky, perhaps “dark”?
Well, medievalists have been in an uproar about ‘white nationalists co-opting the middle ages.’ I’d post links but I’m not sure Unherd likes that – so I suggest Google ‘white nationalists middle ages’
Will do. Thank you.
History is being rewritten as ‘decolonised’ …
Can you give an example of the process of decolonisation of history such that it is rewritten?
(I have a keen interest in understanding the phenomenon of postcolonial theory and how it operates)
It’s mostly American, Canadian and Australian history, where these three countries are having their founding mythos ‘decolonised’ by centering Indigenous / black perspectives. See: the book 1619 by Nikole Hannah Jones. Likewise, historians in my country are very eager to call Australia Day ‘invasion day.’
It is a bit daft to make European History less Eurocentric…..
I enjoy history presented from a particular viewpoint. There’s room for a feminist viewpoint, a slavery viewpoint, a salt viewpoint, guns germs and steel, six beverages, the Silk Road, rice, metallurgy, various religions and so on.
But it would be a mistake to allow a particular viewpoint to stand as an explanation for ‘everything’. Which should also be a warning to many modern activists – you are trying to change the world by pulling on only one of many, many, handles.
It is a good thing to look at historical events from different view-points. As long as one is honest and willing to accept where the evidence takes one, it can caste new light upon old events, helping us all have a better understanding of the past and how it may still impinge upon the present.
Thank you, it is so tempting to just accept that “The past depends less on ‘what happened then’ than on the desires and discontents of the present” but if we don’t continually strive to know ‘what happened then’ we will be left with nothing more than the desires and discontents of the present and lose insight into the world historical uniqueness of our modern age.
Thank you, I like this article a lot. The rewriting of history that not just historians but all of us engage in, is a bit of an obsession.
Re that final paragraph, I doubt it is now possible to ‘see’ the past on its own terms, although perhaps it was possible in the past, when the past moved into the past less fast, and remnants of past sensibility remained part of the present lived experience – which they clearly no longer do. What I mean by that gobbledygook of a sentence is: to experience ‘a past’ you have to embrace the ethos of that time period to make any sense of it, and in my observation this is no longer possible even between the various generations currently living alongside each other right now.
… to experience ‘a past’ you have to embrace the ethos of that time period to make any sense of it, and in my observation this is no longer possible even between the various generations currently living alongside each other right now.
True for experience. Attempting to understand the past also requires a contextualisation that involves the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes of the time and that motivated individuals and peoples.
Good article. As a postgraduate historian, I always switch off when I hear the phrase “written out of history” as it makes the act sound deliberate and aggressive. The modern idea of a war between the sexes is narrowly based and had no currency until recently. The desire to project current views backwards should be resisted as it distorts our view of reality.
Everyone is biased, and history is written from the perspective of the victors anyway, so all history is to what extent flawed, of course. The snag with today is not just that people are unaware of their biases; they in fact are proud of them – crusading historians, and proud to be so.
Why two women were buried with such honour remains a mystery. It turns ideas about the masculine machismo of Viking society on their head.
Where is the reasoning for the conclusion it turns ideas about the masculine machismo of Viking society on their head? This seems to me to be a false dilemma. Such additional data may alternatively suggest the masculine machismo of Viking Society may be a more complex and nuanced phenomenon than previously thought.
DNA analysis in 2017 also caused surprise by revealing the tenth-century Birka warrior — who was buried with an axe, two shields, a spear, and a sword — to be a woman. She was not the only female warrior …
I remember reading about this and an accompanying insightful comment from a historian – that such a conclusion of female warrior is not supported by the evidence, because it assumes the meanings and of particular burial practices, customs and symbols are well known.
If I wish to read an objective history of Islam, then I wouldn’t read material produced by a historian with an agenda to promote Islam. Similarly, if I wish to understand Scottish history, I wouldn’t listen to a Scottish nationalist’s telling of it. So these feminist historians, who the writer describes as having a singular agenda to reveal the role of women, are useless as a means of achieving an objective insight into women. It’s too much hard work to filter out the agenda and see the facts. The simplistic claim that 20% of Viking warriors were women based on burial evidence makes it easy to see this article is driven by an agenda, not providing insight.
Enjoyed this article, thank you.
Bear in mind that high status does not necessarily mean autonomy. High status men were often caught in a web of legal and social obligations that severely limited their choices and effective freedom.
How is it possible for anyone to write about the lives of people who’ve been dead for centuries?
Most of it will be guesswork.
Except in the case of people like Julius Caesar who left us a fairly reasonable autobiographical account of his various campaigns in Gaul etc.
I can’t believe that Ramirez found no evidence of intersectional feminists. She must have been silenced by the patriarchy.
There were some powerful women who bucked the trend in Byzantium and in the Western roman empire based in Ravenna. I’m not an historian but I am interested. Judith Herrin has written two books “Byzantium – The surprising life of a medieval empire” and Ravenna – Capital of empire, crucible of Europe”. She says about Empresses Irene, Theodora, Zoe and Theophano although they were always patronized by men and documented only by male writers that they shaped and directed imperial power. Galla Placidia is particularly interesting. I suppose these are the women who are the exceptions which proved the rule.
Roman women from at least the early Empire, were far more emancipated than women in England were until the late 19th century.
For this state of affairs we can thank Christianity, riddled as it is by numerous idiotic Semitic sexual mores.
I am reading Ravenna at the moment and am a quarter of the way through A Short History of Byzantium by John Julius Norwich, in which Theodora is mentioned as directing and leading Justinian.
History or Humanities. One is a formal endeavour of academic rigour and the other is a celebration of the current thing. Which is this?
Maybe the dead Viking warriors that were women seem relatively numerous because, when it actually came to hand-to-hand combat, they weren’t in the same class as their opponents: men twice their weight and up to a foot taller.
Hmm I’m not sure this really pushes back against current trends at all.
Although it’s an interesting piece, it’s sadly lazy of thinking in places and too given to current nostrums guaranteed or turn off many readers – replacing ‘sex’ with ‘gender for no reason beyond present day fashion, or glibly talking about ‘the Patriachy’ like it was a club that met on Tuesday nights in the parish hall and kept minutes.
If the author wants to persuade people to her point of view then she should drop these woke shibboleths and write in straightforward, jargon-free English.
The most privileged and the most downtrodden have been men. Feminists only look at one side of the coin and have been busy helping the patriarchs push those downtrodden males further into the soil. This has has disasterous effects for both sexes and a thousand or so genders.