by Anne Connor
Picking up on the work of Jane Elliott, retired American teacher and racist educator, imagine the history of the world written through the lens of brown-eyed people and no other.
Imagine this point of view recorded as the solitary truth. Chronicles sit on bookshelves in libraries; are studied in schools, colleges and universities; sold in book shops. Brown-eyed stories are portrayed in art, film and on television.
Since historical narratives are the experience of brown-eyed people, they are deemed as highly intelligent, stronger, and associated with power and knowledge. Their pursuits, adventures and inventions are depicted as ground-breaking and worth documenting. They are well educated, have artistic success and money; bestowed with roles of power within their families and society; awarded high-paying and prestigious work, enabling them to rise to the top of the hierarchical structure. This reinforces brown-eyed people’s belief they are superior to all others. These unbalanced civil liberties are misconstrued as talent, merit and hard work.
Non-brown-eyed people’s narrative portrayals are minimal. When included, they feature as holding subservient roles, such as servants and menial workers, or as a vehicle for a brown-eyed person’s right-of-passage. In art, non-brown-eyed people are rarely seen, except scantily dressed or naked. Their invisibility and subordinate representation throughout history is interpreted as them being unintelligent, emotionally and mentally weak, unimportant and not capable of positions of power. These beliefs must be true. Otherwise they would have featured in historical narratives. This unconscious, unwitting and implicit bias is endemic in all areas of society, a culture structured to keep non-brown-eyed people in their subservient place for their betterment, as well as for the benefit of all society.
Brown-eyed people are committed to maintaining the status quo.
Ingrained prejudice against non-brown-eyed people pervades all levels of civilization, from the bullies in the sand pit to the upper echelons of the social order. This way of seeing the world creates an optical illusion, guiding one’s view in a way that makes it difficult to see its skewed presence. Not knowing another system, some non-brown-eyed people willingly serve the traditional brown-eyed ideals of order, keeping themselves and other non-brown-eyed people subordinate and manipulated. Through time, when non-brown-eyed people push for equality, for the same rights, education and remuneration as brown-eyed people, they are punished, locked up in jails, burned at the stake, beheaded, discredited, untruths are spread about them. The term equality is confusing to brown-eyed people and they reject a different way of viewing the world. They fear that if given the chance, non-brown-eyed people may act just like them.
It isn’t safe for non-brown-eyed people to go out on their own or with their non-brown-eyed companions. If they do so, there is a chance brown-eyed people may attack, rape, bludgeon them to death and dump their bodies. The brown-eyed heads of government and police force warn non-brown-eyed people to have ‘situational awareness’; to be mindful of what they wear when out in public, as some forms of dress may arouse the passions of brown-eyed people as they may not be able to control themselves and may commit acts of violence.
Now that you have imagined that, reflect on the world we live in today.
With the emergence of the #METOO movement and the heart-breakingly sad statistic – that in Australia, one woman is killed every week by a man known to her. Add to this, women being randomly killed by unknown men, I can’t help but ask myself, would the world be different if women’s voices and perspectives had been heard, equally to that of men throughout history?
What if the history of war had been written with women’s and men’s participation represented evenly? Instead of only men’s point of view fighting, maiming and killing, women’s roles such as: nurses, craft-women, code-breakers, ambulance drivers or those who chose not to enlist, instead staying home to raise children and work in factories and shops, were also on the page? What if the French Revolution had been documented through the eyes of women. It was women who started the revolution, marching on the Palace of Versailles priot to men joining in. Women worked in the fields, grew what food they could, educated their children, helped one another when a family went hungry, or a child died.
What if women’s tenacity, creativity, inventions, stoicism, intellect, athleticism and hard work took equal share with men’s stories in the narratives of the world?
What if the world had not been, and did not continue to be, viewed through patriarchy?
Carol Gilligan in her 2002 book, The Birth of Pleasure writes, “Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of nudes are female.”
Writing narratives through tunnel-vision and a self-absorbed perspective creates selfishness, discrimination and indifference to the plight of otherS. When the world is viewed through a patriarchal lens, it becomes skewed, distorted and imbalanced. We have become desensitized to the disparity between genders and men’s violence against women. Light-hearted rape jokes and objectification of women still go uncontested and viewed as ‘locker-room’ talk or ‘all men do it.’ In a traditionally male-dominated society where having a penis equals privilege, boys are still being raised to have a narrow emotional landscape. Anger, domination and violence are often the preferred emotions available to little boys growing up. They are still being told not to cry or experience the broad range of human feelings. When things don’t go their way, a violent outburst is the predominant mode with which to handle rejection, conflict, disappointment.
Statistics tell the sad truth. The leading cause of death in young men between ages 18 to 35 is suicide. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2017, Australian men aged 85 and over have the highest rate of suicide: 39.3 per 100,000 people; women, in the same age bracket, rate of suicide is 5.7 per 100,000. Patriarchy certainly doesn’t serve men, either. The strongest symptom of a patriarchal society is men struggling to cope with trauma and feelings. With difficulty opening up to talk about their emotions, they can become completely overwhelmed. They are taught that to experience their feelings is feminine, “being a girl” which further induces shame and stigma.
What if the world was not seen through patriarchy, but viewed equally? I believe men as well as women would benefit from hearing a woman’s narrative throughout history. Respecting women as equals may help breakdown the noxious masculine models alive in modern society.
How do we ensure women’s voices are heard equally? There is hope. Inroads are being made. Books shining a light on women contributing to the world through their creativity, skill and robustness are re-writing history through a female voice.
Melissa Ashley’s The Birdman’s Wife presents us with Elizabeth Gould whose exquisite, detailed drawings of the beauty of birds educate and inform. But, unfortunately, as was the time, her husband John Gould eclipses her deserved place in history. It is hopeful to see this *“extraordinary woman overshadowed by history, step back into the light where she belongs.”
Robyn Cadwallader’s Book of Colours is a story of Gemma, a woman who lives in the shadows of men, but still finds a way of creating beautiful, ancient gilded pages; artworks in themselves.
For the super sleuths, there’s Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, set in Melbourne in the 1920s. Fisher is a wealthy aristocrat and private detective, who lives in St Kilda. She’s smart, independent, rich and sexy; always helping the hapless police inspector solve the crime. He couldn’t do it without her.
Women are finding their voice in sport. For decades, female athletes have represented our country in the international sporting arena. They make us proud with their success, discipline, skill and grace. No tantrums, cheating, alcohol and/or drug fueled violence such as those seen by male athletes we often read about in newspapers, on social media or see on television.
*Ashley Melissa, The Birdman’s Wife. Affirm Press 2016.
Recently, in Melbourne the image of a woman at the peak of her athletic career was vilified on social media by faceless men. Her superb athleticism not the emphasis of their comments. Her body became the focus for their vile and explicitly violent comments.
Would this happen to a man? If not, why not? Would this abuse have happened to this woman if the history books had been written with an equal balance of women and men’s successes and stories? Perhaps if they had, the lens would be different, then this young woman in the prime of her sporting career would have been seen for what she is – a superb, gifted athlete and not someone to vilify and abuse.
Due to the economy of words, this writing has focused on female exclusion from narratives, but you could easily replace women representing non-brown-eyed people with any or all of the following; LGBTQIA, people from all nationalities, cultures, colour, people of all faith, and those with differing levels of ability. Writing inclusive narratives benefits us all, widening and enlightening our perspective of the world in which we live. By celebrating and embracing our similarities instead of focusing on difference, we can work towards breaking down the notion of ‘other’ being different, ‘not like us’, to a place where fiction, non-fiction, prose, poetry, essay, report and policy writing are an honest and inclusive representation of the historical and modern world.