Usually, when a movie comes out about historically important women, my excitement is tinged with some trepidation. So often, these kinds of movies are about exceptional women – geniuses or rebels – and they are presented as the exceptions. “Can you believe that a woman did this?” the undercurrent asks. “Isn’t she so brave and unique and so unlike all of those incredibly ordinary women?” As if womankind has only ever had a few moments in history where she was worthy of notice and respect.
Hidden Figures is not like that.
There is certainly the genius, Katherine G Johnson, who the entire story is centered around. And all three of the main characters are in some way exceptional.
But rather than constantly gasping at the heroines’ braveness and intelligence as if that’s the only thing that makes them worthy of being the eye of a movie, Hidden Figures humanizes them. It frames their efforts to overcome injustices not as the sacrifice they must make to overcome their inherent ordinariness, but instead as the ordinary travails of a black woman’s life. It tells the story from the characters’ perspective, pulling the viewers in by reminding us that we have at least 99% of our DNA in common. Black female geniuses want to be happy, it says, and happiness is not transcending gender and race in order to find a partner or do a great job, but encompassing gender and race in the process. A woman can be intelligent and also want to be a great wife and mother, it says. A black woman can be black and also want to be recognized for her accomplishments.
A black woman can be a black woman and also have white women and men cheering her on.
Sometimes you go in search of Mildred Fish, a controversial researcher of scurvy in children, and come across Mildred Fish-Harnack, a Nazi resistor, instead.
As women in the world so often do, I had a baby. As so many women before me have experienced, this required so much time from me, I haven’t been able to devote much to other activities. As so many women after me will, I also lost my password to my blog in the process and only remembered it recently, in the witching hour when everyone except my household was asleep.
So I’m back! I still have a bunch of topics lined up for you and find more all the time. Though I’m going to be working on it at odd hours, I am going to do my best to keep blogging and posting from here on out.
Think Mother’s Day is the only holiday celebrated in America without a controversy behind it? Think again:
“As early as the 1850s, West Virginia women’s organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis held Mother’s Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
The groups also tended wounded soldiers of both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865, she added.[…]
Anna Jarvis’s idea of an intimate Mother’s Day quickly became a commercial gold mine centering on the buying and giving of flowers, candies, and greeting cards—a development which deeply disturbed Jarvis. […] ‘A printed card means nothing except that you are too lazy to write to the woman who has done more for you than anyone in the world,’ Jarvis once said.”
This Mother’s Day, I’m going to be thinking about what mothering really means, not just because I’m 7 months into my own journey of motherhood (yep, I’m having a baby) but also because, while individual mothers should absolutely be adored and celebrated, there is so much more to mothering than the actions of individuals. Motherhood is still regarded as an inferior and unimportant aspect of life in many parts of the world, yet none of us would be here without it.
Women have supposedly only been wearing bras for a hundred years. But women have had breasts for millions of years, and those breasts can pain their bearers during exercise, pregnancy, or just everyday life – and for a lot of women, the best antidote is some external support. So it’s no surprise that a few 14th century bras were found in the floorboards of an Austrian castle. It’s certainly neat, though; it reminds us that the women back then were women just like we are.
Note: I put the right link in this time.
The sort-of counterpart to my own humble blog is The Art of Manliness, who has a great (and big!) collection of photographs of men, along with an extensive discussion of the changing norms among men from the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Go check out the physically intimate photographs of that other sex.
Remember that movie about Hysteria that I mentioned?
It’s in theaters!
Go see it and let me know what you think. My friend Spring will convince you:
Hysteria, as many of you probably know, was commonly recognized by Western medical professionals as a legitimate disease up until 1952. Women were diagnosed with hysteria if they displayed any of a wide array of symptoms including irritability, fluid retention, trouble-making, having too much or too little sexual desire, being too hungry, and on. Like me, pretty much every day. The common treatment became genital massage, and such was prescribed in early gynecological literature dating back to Hippocrates’ work around 330 B.C. Women would go to doctors, get rubbed off by the physician or his (physicians were most always male up until the 19th century) nurse or assistant. And women went religiously. It was a cycle, of course: repress, pay doctor to orgasm, repeat. The problem for doctors was, as Rachel P. Maines explains in an excellent piece of scientific history, manually stimulating the clitoris of a female hysteric was hard work and could take quite some time. Doctors had other patients to see and money to make, so when the invention of the electric vibrator came along, doctors were, physically and financially, relieved.
Don’t forget to visit Spring’s blog and click on her Rachel P. Maines link.
…The irony for me being that not having to look for a job constantly anymore has actually left me with less time to update than before. If only someone would pay me to post.
“Mary Surrat, if it were not for the Lincoln Assassination, would not be in any history book whatsoever. She was a typical middle-class Southern sympathizer woman…”