“Let’s take it from the top: Marie Antoinette never said, ‘Let them eat cake,’ Lucrezia Borgia never poisoned anyone, and Mary Queen of Scots was NOT a murderous whore. By righting these wrongs we take the first step toward restoring women to their proper and respected place in history—a place that has been usurped by generations of historians with a political agenda.”
From: The Expected One by Kathleen McGowan, volume 1 of The Magdalene Trilogy. The protagonist Maureen Paschal lecturing her literature class.
Herstory—history used especially in feminist literature and in women’s studies as an alternative form, from a female point of view or as it relates to women—ignites the imagination creating an awareness of and fascination for courageous and accomplished women.
Here are seven primary reasons to appreciate herstory:
1. Rich Lineage of Powerful Female Role Models
Take the time to search these thirty dynamic women to learn your rich and vast lineage:
Hatshepsut, Nefertiti, Queen of Sheba, Candace–Empress of Ethiopia, Hypatia, Boudicca, Zenobia, Empress Theodora, Empress Wu Zetan, Mathilde of Tuscany, Eleanor of Aquatine, Jeann de Clisson, , Grace O’Malley, Isabella 1, Elizabeth 1, Catherine the Great, Ching Shih, Empress Dowager Cixi, Harriet Tubman, Mauela Saenz, Queen Victoria, Sojourner Truth, Lucretia Mott, Jane Adams, Emmeline Pankhurst, Yaa Asantewa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Rigo Berta Menchu, Audre Lorde, Wilma Mankiller and so many more.
2. Overcome the Disney Animation Stereotype
A myriad of women’s studies focused on self-image and body image discuss the psychological impact of Disney and commercial advertising. What young woman isn’t haunted by the perfect figures of Snow White, Alice, Cinderella, Princess Aurora, Belle, Jasmine, Ariel, or the voluptuous Jessica Rabbit? Why does it usually take a man to save them, with a kiss, the sword of truth and shield of virtue, a glass slipper, a flying carpet, or some other intervention? Who could live up to this and who would want to? Herstory purposely depicts real women with their foibles and physical uniqueness.
3. Female Empowerment
“Well behaved women seldom make history,” said Harvard scholar Laurel Ulrich in 1976. Learning how women rose above imposed societal restraints builds Empowerment. Throughout history, women were the catalysts for social change through their non-conformist behavior. Everyone should read stories of powerful women and think, “If they can do it, so can I!”
4. Embrace Complexity over Suffocating Simplicity
Good herstorical fiction shows dynamic and often complex women and how they evolved. Cardboard cutout, one-dimensional, good and evil, simplistic, black and white histories are replaced by intriguingly complex, multi-dimensional, many layered stories of the full spectrum of human behavior.
5. From Feminism to Humanism
A normal and sometimes needed reaction to the herstorical mistreatment of women is to resent, revolt, and foment revolution, as portrayed in the recent movie, Suffragette. However, beyond violent Feminism there is a peaceful destination based on inclusivity, called Humanism. Popular movements, like HeForShe and Hope for Our Daughters that are utilizing social media are leading the way.
6. Gloria Steinem’s Model: Use Herstory to Motivate
An early advocate/activist of both feminism and herstory, Gloria Steinem combines empathy, compassion, and universal love to motivate people to change. Gloria repeatedly suggests that we not rush to judgment on emotional issues, but rather feel from the heart and observe all sides of the human elements. Ms. Steinem is a leading proponent of Humanism.
7. Individuation—An Amazing Dance
Carl Gustav Jung defined the term individuation as the process of psychological integration. To accomplish this, each of us has to tune in to the ebb and flow, the magical interweaving dance of Feminine and Masculine energies within. Herstory creates awareness of these powerful forces by portraying memorable feminine archetypes.
An example of herstorical fiction is my first novel about two strong women, Victoria Woodhull and her younger sister, Tennessee Celeste Claflin. These Victorian Age sisters overcame horrific adversities to live incredible, audacious lives manifesting their visions. The general public does not know who they are, but should. My goal is to make the sisters iconic symbols of female empowerment and accomplishment.
Let’s return to Kathleen McGowan’s The Expected One, as the heroine Maureen Paschal eloquently states my own beliefs:
“My goal is to bring things back into balance by looking at history with modern eyes. Do you live your life in the same way that people lived sixteen hundred years ago? No. So why should laws, beliefs, and historical interpretations dictated [by men] in the Dark Ages govern the way we live in the twenty-first century? It just doesn’t make sense.”
What good herstory or herstorical fiction would you recommend?