Speech given at the launch of Women’s History Month, Thursday 20th January.
Note: this is a digest of some of the major points in Rosalind Miles’s ‘The Women’s History of the World’, and ‘Warrior Women – 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism’, co-written with Robin Cross. All statements are referenced there.
Women are central to the story of the human race. Our world past is packed with Amazons, Assyrian warrior queens, mother goddesses, roaring girls, scientists, saints and sinners, female legends and leaders who rose to rule the world. The early records are full of the achievements of women.
In 2300 BC, the chief priest of Sumeria wrote the world’s first known poem in praise of God, and both priest and God were female. Inanna was only one incarnation of the Great Goddess, who was the supreme deity for upwards of 100,000 years.
But the rise of the Father Gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam put paid to all that. What they gave us was the Fall of Women. And a major part of the oppression of women and our enforced inferiority lies in the denial of our history.
When the Mayflower sailed for America in 1620, the Founding Fathers left their names carved in stone on Plymouth quay. There was no mention of the women who sailed with them.
Where women’s history is not obliterated, it is re-written. Joan of Arc was burned not for heresy but for wearing men’s clothes. Florence Nightingale was known in the Crimea as “The Lady with the Hammer”. The “lamp” was an invention of a reporter of the time.
In truth women have been active, competent and vitally important through all the ages of man and it is devastating for us if we do not understand this. For the world is full of wonderful women from the dawn of time: sea-captains and warriors like Artemisia and Telessilla in the ancient world, and many more.
And never forgetting the unsung heroines of women’s history, the un-famous millions who form the majority of the human race. That is a lost Atlantis waiting to be rediscovered, the forgotten stories of so many women’s lives.
Nor must we ever forget all the women still trapped today in countries and systems that brutally oppress them, openly and without shame. For them freedom remains an imaginary garden in which only the toads are real.
1 Our struggle is repetitive – every advance meets a fight back
2 But the truth of women’s history is that it is the story of the majority of the human race
3 Female infanticide is raging, but they can’t kill us all and we must fight on.
4 All revolutions, all democratic experiments, all movements for equality have stopped short of sexual equality
5 It’s all to play for, and all to win – when all of us win. Women are making the connection with each, joining the old dots – all the dots together make a beautiful picture – we can re-draw, re-paint the world!
Rosalind Miles is an award-winning author of 20 books of fiction and non-fiction, and her Women’s History of the World, has become part of the feminist canon. She is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and one of her latest book, written with Robin Cross, is Warrior Women – 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism. She is regular commentator on the BBC, and in The Times and the Telegraph.