Who’s Writing History?

by Esther Emery

Delicia came over for coffee today. That means that Milo didn’t nap, because, well, we’re loud.  At least, we get loud when we talk about gender and politics, which we often do, and not only with each other.  I actually managed to engage my chatty seat companion on the plane in a discussion of gender politics…on the red-eye, no less.  Yet another advantage to flying without the baby! 

The woman I met on the way to Boston is an art teacher, and, although she made it clear to me that she is not a feminist,  she does share my alarm at the extreme gender imbalance in the most lucrative and most highly publicized sectors of the visual arts. Furthermore, she confided that it is her personal experience that female artists are poorly represented even in wholly contemporary collections, and that deserving female artists are often left out of the art history curriculum altogether. 

I’d tell you her name except I don’t know it. We didn’t talk about anything except art and gender.

Is this an obsession?

Don’t answer that. 

While Milo was trying to sleep, Delicia was telling me about an NPR story I missed, in which Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a pioneering black female guitarist whose heyday predates Rosa Parks as well as Chuck Berry, is found to be unfairly forgotten by history and finally gets a headstone some thirty years after her death.

Hmm.

In response I shared my evolving experience of this scarifying book by Kathryn Joyce, which I wanted badly enough to buy in hardcover and am now about a third of the way through.

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(I call this photo “Still Life With Biblical Christianity and Nursing Bra.”)  

The largely home schooling group of Biblical Christians Joyce studied for her book have an insular publishing industry through which they create their own materials for teaching American history. Why?  Because their version of American history is different from most everybody else’s. Oddly enough, seeing that tactic in black and white actually gives credence to what might otherwise be considered an aging or insignificant concern, that history is written by the victors and has been fudged by the sons of the victors and adapted to modernity by the grandsons of the victors. It makes you wonder if even today anybody knows how deep the rabbit hole goes.  

But change does occur. Sister Rosetta Tharpe got a headstone.

Delicia tells me that revisionist history reminds her that MOXIE’s mission is important. I don’t think I can accurately quote MOXIE’s mission here, but I know one of the other ladies can. Put it in comments if you’ve got it. I can tell you that we choose plays that “expand our idea of what is feminine.”   

If our idea of what is feminine still finds its lineage in a long line of writers without vaginas, then it probably could use some expanding. 

Have any of you been taught things that you later learned were inaccurate or heavily weighted towards someone else’s point of view?  Any popular myths you feel passionate about debunking?

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