Why was it necessary to make women invisible? When the FBI stole Lucy Parson’s papers it was because they deemed them “dangerous.” Jane Addams was also called “The most dangerous woman in America.” Like pharaoh killing the first born sons of the Jews, and burning books in Fahrenheit 451, their power was deemed too dangerous to exist.
What does it mean to make something invisible? The history of the United States is not one white men doing great things, but one of all people doing great things while white men oppressed everyone else, including writing them out of history. The history of white men is taught as a core subject and called “United States History”, while Women’s history, African American history, and Native American history are electives. The inaccurate version of history that Americans are taught perpetuates the message that things white men have done, decisions they’ve made, things they wanted and the ways they got them, are acceptable and prescriptive. It has normalized violence, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism, not to mention white supremacy and sexism.
Throughout this project, I’ve told myself again and again, ”Believe in yourself and your work. Believe in your sisters and their work.” This belief is a step towards dismantling the patriarchy, both internalized and in society. Women and girls are told in so many ways, both overt and insidious, that they are less than and that their work is not worthwhile. Women’s creative work is both disregarded by reviewers and overly-criticized. Women are censured for putting themselves and their work forward. And they are told, in many ways, that women are uninteresting and untrustworthy.
My work on making women’s history more visible has been a meta-project, in that by unpacking the ways and reasons women have been oppressed, I am able to recognize my own internalized misogyny and recontextualize the political to the personal and back to political again. I read in bell hooks, Feminism is for Everyone, that women used to gather in consciousness raising groups, exploring their experiences, and developing a vocabulary of their oppression. It is impossible to understand a thing if you have no language for it. Likewise, it is impossible for me to understand my own experiences as a women, without an accurate understanding of the oppression women experienced in the United States.
Some of the biographies I wrote describe the injustices many women faced at the time, especially women of color. Some bios may seem to be a long list of accomplishments, but they were not achieved without great effort and sacrifice. Women I included sacrificed their names, safety, property, homelands, and even their racial identity.
I wrote biographies to be short and inviting, and interesting enough that the reader might click through the link I provided to learn more. I tried to keep some uniformity in the biographies, from formatting name and dates, to using first names, indicating marital status, and a length of 1-3 paragraphs. In content I tried to have some variety, some are heavy with lists of accomplishments, some tell about one main moment in the woman’s life, others are a longer sketches from childhood to old age, some are uplifting and many tell a story of injustice . All these women transformed the United States in some way.
I am really inspired by making women’s history more visible. I feel connected to something strong, powerful, beautiful, and hidden. In some ways, the hidden aspect is like a treasure hunt, or an archeological dig. I am digging up handfuls of gold and gems, or valuable dinosaur bones. These women’s stories are a treasure to me because each story is my story. They are deeply fascinating, because they are both a surprise and a truth that is intimately familiar, like finding out you are adopted and meeting your birthparents. These are my ancestors.