Is History Sexist?

Is History Sexist?: Meryl Yourish (among other people) got a bit huffy because no woman ranked in the top 20 Greatest Figures In American History article that went up yesterday. Here’s some of what Meryl had to say…

“Notice also that there is not a single woman on the list of the “greatest figures in American history.” There is one honorable mention of a woman: Harriet Tubman.

Something is wrong with that picture.

I chose the women on my list for several reasons. I chose Susan B. Anthony because she was instrumental in the birth of the women’s rights movement. I chose Gloria Steinem because decades after Susan B. Anthony, it took women like Steinem to energize the women’s rights movement in our lifetimes so that women can enjoy the freedom they now have. I chose Rosa Parks because she was the flashpoint that got the Civil Rights movement started. I chose Eleanor Roosevelt because she was the first activist First Lady. In her time, she was hated or loved just as much as Hillary Clinton is today.

…I say again, there is definitely a boys’ club in the blogosphere, and this list is entered into evidence as Exhibit A. There are a lot of bloggers on that list who have some pretty thoughtful, well-researched posts. But they couldn’t see fit to include a single woman?

Yeah, there’s something wrong with that picture. Sexism in the blogosphere, again.”

This probably won’t sit well with Meryl and some other people, but it needs to be said; the reason why there are no women on the list is because none of them deserved to make it.

For example, who should be taken off the list so Eleanor Roosevelt can get in the top twenty? Her husband? Thomas Paine? Ulysses S. Grant? Come on — get serious. Should we yank Alexander Hamilton or Teddy Roosevelt so Rosa Parks can get on the list? Do you think any of the women who didn’t make it were more significant than men like Andrew Jackson, Douglas MacArthur & Alexander Graham Bell who also didn’t make the final cut? You’ve got to be kidding me.

American history has nothing to do with “fairness”, sexism, or “a boys’ club” — it “is what it is” — like it or not. If it chafes you that more women didn’t make the top 20, well, then I suggest that you accept history for what it is rather than trying to force it to fit into your agenda.

***Update***: Whoops! Looks like I made some people mad when I said, “the reason why there are no women on the list is because none of them deserved to make it.” In our comment section, Alli writes…

“Geez, I never thought that I’d quit coming to this site. I agree with your choices John because that’s just the way history is, but why the nasty remark, “because none of them deserved to make it.”? It’s one thing to think it but to put it that way? That kind of thought should have been kept to yourself and not printed as the basis for your reason. Great, now I’ll be weary of visiting the site now. Thanks”

Venomous Kate was so angry over this that I thought she was writing parody for a moment…

“To which I say: Bullsh*t, John. What. Absolute. Bullsh*t.

Who is the revisionist here? The blogger who notes that the names of Susan B. Anthony, Gloria Steinham and Rosa Parks’ name are absent from the list of the influential, or those who believe that Mark Twain’s contributions were more significant than theirs?

Rosa Parks liberated a race.

Mark Twain wrote some great yarns.”

If my original comments really irritated you, what I’m about to say now probably isn’t going to make it any better, in fact it may make things worse, but I thought I should elaborate a bit anyway. While I stand by everything I said in the first post, let me make it clear that if we went say — a 100 deep (actually, that might be something cool to do this week-end) there would be more than a few women who would make the list. Right off the top of my head, I’d say that Susan B. Anthony (who would have been the first woman I ranked — somewhere in the thirties probably), Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Stanton, Amelia Earhart, Ayn Rand, & Dorthea Dix would make the list…**sigh**…I really didn’t help myself much by coming up with that few women out of a hundred did I?

But hey, I’m sorry — I don’t consider Eleanor Roosevelt to be terribly significant, Gloria Steinem is a lefty who wouldn’t make a top 10,000 list of mine, and I think Rosa Parks is totally overrated. She wasn’t the first woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus, she was just the woman the NAACP chose to use for a legal challenge. Who even knows the names of the other women who came before Parks? I don’t see anyone singing their praises although they had even more courage than Parks because they weren’t guaranteed to have the full power of the NAACP backing them up. So personally, I don’t think Parks is in the same class as men like Fredrick Douglass, Malcolm X, or Martin Luther King.

All that being said, women haven’t been given the same opportunities as men throughout our history. As RWN reader Geoff says in the comments section…

“I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that there were no women on the ‘final’ 20 Greatest Figures In American History list because for most of America’s history, women weren’t allowed to *do* anything. Isn’t that kind of obvious?”

Yes, it is. So don’t take what I’m saying personally or think that it’s some sort of dig at women because it simply isn’t. I’m just looking at history and calling it like I see it. If that makes people angry — well so be it. I’m not going to pretend that a woman should have been on the list just for the sake of political correctness…

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