Why are we so awful to female historians?

Recently there has been yet another spate of female history experts being undermined.

F Yeah History writer and curator extraordinaire, Helen Antrobus appeared on BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are.

She was there to talk about suffrage, and she did her job perfectly; explaining the suffrage movement and the 1911 census boycott in an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and understandable way . So of course, after doing her job so well, the comments rolled in:

comments 1

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*By the way because I’m nice I’ve removed these peoples usernames

Helen immediately shut this down and wrote a quick reminder that she’d been there to chat about an era of history she is an expert in, which seemed to have been forgotten… Helen tweet
But of course, Helen isn’t the only woman who has spent the last few days fighting to be recognised for her history expertise.

The very talented historian, Fern Riddell was also undermined, after a fellow historian ‘skimmed’ her recent book on Suffragette Kitty Marion and felt she’d put emotion over fact, which he believed was invective of the clear ‘gendered methods’ between male and female historians

This of course quickly descended into people tearing apart Ferns’ career, right to expertise and questioning whether she truly had the PHD she ‘claimed’ to have.

Just like Helen, Fern immediately clapped back: Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 19.11.07

Both women we’re immediately joined by many others supporting them, and both proved themselves to be brave as well as  more than capable of rising above the bullshit that’s been thrown at them. And that’s a really great skill to have, because right now:

They’re going to get this the rest of their careers

We are AWFUL to women in history. Both in terms of women in history and women who work in history.

If you’re a women in a public facing history role, then chances are you’ve had your entire worth questioned over:

  •  What you look like
  • If your qualifications actually make you an expert.

And this isn’t just the dark corners of the internet. It’s the rising problem of male only history panels. The disparity in pay that is very much still prevalent. That female history experts on TV are given way more stipulations over what they wear than their male counterparts.

Highly intelligent women being stripped of their passion, knowledge and hard work; instead simply boiled down to their looks and perceived educational legitimacy.

I think we can all agree that this is bullshit of the highest order. 

To change this for good we all need to work together. Take the amazing new initiative in America, Women Also Know History. A project started by female history experts to promote women working in history, and make it easy for people to find a female expert; ending the all male guest panels and talks because of the lame excuse that nobody could find a relevant female expert. HERE THEY ARE FOR YOU!

Projects like this are incredible, and they are changing the history landscape for good! But these projects are also really rare. And that’s  because it takes everyone putting aside differences to work together as one.

A united front. Differences aside, grudges on the back burner, judgement not welcome. It’s a big ask. But its the only way to make meaningful change.

So, here are 3 small ways we can start uniting as a community

1.Stop Tearing Each Other Apart

Sounds simple right? But women tearing down other women is still a huge problem. Now don’t get me wrong, in general history is a wonderful supportive place to be, it’s a world full of hybrid Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, it’s truly a beautiful thing.  

BUT the stakes in history can be high, because its often not just years of work at stake, but livelihoods too.

So it’s understandable then, that when people feel they’ve been overlooked, belittled or smeared, that they lash out.

But no matter how carthatic it may be, it’s doing SO MUCH HARM.

Whether it’s bitching to a friend that someone only got a TV gig because they can ‘bat their eyes for the camera’, rolling your eyes and undermining someone researching the same era as you, or even going so far as to tell people to straight up never work with someone – it’s hurting not just that person but you too.

In a field where women already have to work twice as hard for less chance at a job, we need more of us, not less. 

Putting each other down doesn’t do anything other than create less opportunity, and make it ok for other people to bash women in history.

2. So let’s talk!

If you don’t agree with someone’s research conclusions or have an issue with something they’ve said or done, then talk to them.

And I don’t mean by @ing them in a public message.

Slide on into those DMs, send an email and create a meaningful conversation. Because if you’ve written a 15,000 word dissertation, a 30,000 word thesis or a 60,000 word book, then I believe in your ability to write a 50 word email.

And don’t just stop at that little email!

Get on social media and discover new people, new work, new ways of telling history. Things you like and things you don’t. Expand your personal bubble and say hi to people, start conversations with history experts and lovers both big and small.

You’ll be not only creating your own positive community but also inadvertently building bonds and bridges outside your personal circle.


3. Start working to build a better tomorrow. 

Yes. I know. It’s cheesy. But it’s true. 

It doesn’t have to be big, it can be small and take next to no effort! Start by doing more to  celebrate the achievements of others in your field. Recommend their latest book, retweet their project, just tell people about the cool stuff they’re up to. Spreading each others work makes everyone more visible.

But most of all, don’t forget to leave the door open for the people behind you. 

Campsite rules people. Leave things in a better state than you found them. That means working to make it easier for others to work in history.

So, say no when everyone on a history panel is a white middle aged man. Stand with your colleagues when they need support. Check in and make sure people are ok when they’re getting battered with abuse.

And make more opportunities for people just starting out. Just because you got in by one route doesn’t mean everyone else can or should. PHD’s are great, but not everyone has one or the ability and privilege to be able to do one. Unpaid internships and apprenticeships were once the only road, but relying on them has meant we’re losing so many amazing voices.

Remember: The more we stand together, the more we grow. The more we grow, the more unstoppable we become. And so we can change what history holds for the women that come after us. 

3 thoughts on “Why are we so awful to female historians?”

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