The Problem of the So-Called Forgotten Woman and Patriarchal Histories
If you walk into any bookstore, I guarantee you’ll see her. The forgotten woman. She might not be obvious, she might not be standing at the door waiting for you, but she’s there. She’s in the pages of those books that talk about women from history, their lives and their inspiring ways. Perhaps she’s even made the front cover.
(I kid. She hasn’t.)
But she is there, I promise. The forgotten woman. The woman who changed the world with a blink of her eye is being remembered, reclaimed, and rediscovered by a new generation of readers. She’s a bygone broad, a rebel girl, a forgotten feminist hero.
And I don’t have a problem with that. Not in the slightest. I want these women and their stories told. I want them heard. I want them shouted from the rooftops.
My problem is the idea of these women being forgotten in the first place.
Because they weren’t.
They just weren’t ever allowed to be remembered.
These are women who existed at times that weren’t able to deal with who they were and what they could do. Much of that centres on a patriarchal framing of history; a story being told by those who couldn’t cope with power being wielded by somebody who was not in the club.
One of my favourite authors, Angela Brazil, is often referred to as being forgotten. This is despite her still having a fierce fan culture (people have written plays about her), a substantial amount of her books being available via Project Gutenberg, and the simple fact that her books sold over three million copies during her lifetime. Were I challenged, I could happily argue for a direct connection between her work and Harry Potter. (Challenge me, please, I’m fun at parties).
Even though a vast amount of people won’t know who Angela Brazil is, a lot of people do. She has not been forgotten. Not in the slightest. She is not reclaimed, nor repurposed, nor retold. She is remembered.
And it’s that shift I want to see in publishing.
Women deserve to be remembered. Shouted about. Talked about. Writing about them as forgotten figures of history perpetuates their absence. We forgot them. They weren’t good enough to be remembered. You weren’t remarkable enough to make the grade. In a way, it’s all their fault.
Except, it’s not.
So put aside the forgotten woman; write her in wild, 15-page biographies instead of a neat little one page summary. Place her on the front of her book, a photo of her staring down the world that didn’t let her in. Put her back in the centre of her story, and stop pulling her out of it.