A History of the World with the Women Put Back in
By Kerstin Lucker, Ute Daenschel
`Who says that daughters cannot be heroic?’
Once upon a time, history was written by men, for men and about men. Women were deemed less important, their letters destroyed, their stories ignored.
Not any more.
This is the story of women who went to war, women who stopped war and women who stayed at home. The rulers. The fighters. The activists. The writers. This is the story of Wu Zetian, who as `Chinese Emperor’ helped to spread Buddhism in China. This is the story of Genghis Khan’s powerful daughters, who ruled his empire for him. This is the story of Christine de Pizan, one of the earliest feminist writers. This is the story of Victoria Woodhull, who ran for president before she could even vote for one. This is the story of the world – with the women put back in.
By Becky Hinshelwood
Wow, I’ve been left in a bit of a rage from this book! I say that as a compliment. It’s a rage that is formed by the treatment of women through history. Most specifically, how when you take an overview of history it all seems so very unnecessary.
By summarising all of history in one book, the authors Kerstin Lücker and Ute Daenschel are able to identify key points of change in female social history. What’s made me angry is how intrinsically linked these are with self serving quests for power. It’s a similar pattern to those of indigenous populations and the African slave trade. And it’s just such a waste.
But this book isn’t about inciting rage. That’s a by product which I might be a bit predisposed to! What this history is about is celebrating some really brave, intelligent and interesting women; some equally as violent and power hungry as their male counterparts. But, hey isn’t that what true equality looks like!
A History of the World with the Women Put Back In was conceived as a piece of writing for younger readers. It’s a teenage Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls. Because of this, the more violent details are kept at arm’s length. But in no way did this read like a kids book to me. It’s universal. This book isn’t for those embarking on specialist study, though. You won’t be able to recite the monarchs of England in order or reel off the date of the Peasant’s revolt by reading this book. But that’s not what it’s for.
Having an overview of all of history is something that many of us lack. This stands true for adults as well as older children and teens. I studied history at A level and if I really concentrate I can recall some of the complexities of Russian history and the period of the English Civil War. However I’ve never really had the historical overview that I feel I’ve gained by this book. And as a massive bonus, women are included!
Because it’s about inclusion. Unlike Goodnight Stories…, (which is a fabulous concept but intended to tell the specific stories of history’s notable women) this book talks about history itself. It talks about men too. The clue is in the title; the women have simply been included. So what you gain from this book is an understanding about how history has formed and developed gender in society.
Patterns become visible when you summarise history in one book. This was really intriguing and perhaps is what made it so engaging a read. The use of ‘probably’ is addressed in the preface, and this is important to bear in mind when you read any historical writing. Every retelling of historical events is an interpretation, and this is no different. The authors continually refer to perspectives, which helps it to feel authentic and pragmatic. Not to mention relevant.
All modern gender inequalities have their roots in here. Everyday sexism, date rape, the gender pay gap, online mum shaming to name but a few. You can see the echos through these pages. Reading this book won’t make all that stuff go away, but within history lies information and understanding. And I reckon that’s a pretty empowering weapon with which our young women can arm themselves.
This history is an accessible way to give yourself a background to make you feel more informed about the world. About how we’ve got to where we are. And even, perhaps, where we need to go next to make the world a better place. To avoid slipping into the patterns of history that are so evident from reading this book. This may be a history book, but I would treat it as a tool for the future.