Feminism | Posted by Talia on 02/17/2011

How the AP Deals With Women

"Women In xxx" isn't enough

I don’t like being patronized. I know this probably isn’t shocking, but I seriously HATE it. It also annoys me to no end when people patronize womankind.

This year, I’m taking AP European History. Ignoring the fact that the teacher is honestly the worst I’ve ever had (although it is rather fun piping in with my obnoxious feminist comments), I find the course itself patronizing towards women. Maybe I’m overreacting and being too picky, but nevertheless it annoys me that there are specific “Women in xxx” units (for example – “Women in the Scientific Revolution”).

On a handout my teacher gave us outlining women’s role throughout the periods we’ve studied, it says at the top, “A generation ago, women’s history, if it appeared at all in the textbooks, was generally relegated to a few sidebars. Now, women’s history should be an integral part of your AP European History course.”

The sentiment is noble: I completely support it and am glad that the AP is making such a concerted effort to include women’s history in the curriculum. However, I find it patronizing and a little bit sexist that they completely separate women’s history from the “mainstream” history.

I’ve taken notes in the Goldhar format ever since my school had Rabbi Goldhar, the creator of the format, come in and teach it to us. It’s really helpful, since instead of taking notes in paragraph or even list format, you put the main idea into a bubble on the left side of the page, and write information pertaining to the main idea in spokes coming out from the bubble. Looking through my Goldhar notes for AP Euro, everything is in neat little bubbles. Under the Scientific Revolution, I have 16 bubbles, one of which is the “Women in Science” bubble. Under the Enlightenment there are 19 bubbles, one of which is the “Role of Women” bubble. Under the French Revolution, I have 29 bubbles and – you guessed it – “Women vs. Men in Philosophy,” “Women March Versailles,” and “Women in the Revolution” bubbles.
I find it kind of sad that not only was the amount of information taught about women in those respective periods pathetically small, but that said information was taught in a singular unit, grouped together simply because the people involved were women.

Let’s use the Scientific Revolution as an example. I have bubbles dedicated to Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, Isaac Newton, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke. “Women in Science” has a lot of spokes, including ones dedicated to Margaret Cavendish, Maria Cunitz, Maria Winkelman, and Emilie Chatelet. Why couldn’t the discoveries of Winkelman been mentioned under the same heading as those of Copernicus, since both of them tried to figure out an accurate calendar? Why don’t Newton and Chatelet get accorded honors at the same time, since Chatelet translated Newton’s work into French? I’m not saying to make a bigger deal out of their scientific research than they deserve, but just don’t separate the women’s work from the men’s work simply based on gender.

So that’s my two cents on how to include women’s history in the curriculum. It’s definitely a step in the right direction to include them in a separate unit, and I commend the AP for making such a concerted effort to keep women in the syllabus. Nonetheless, it’s much closer to the goal of complete equality between the sexes to include women in the mainstream program of study.

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  • Miriam @ at 11:30 am, February 17th, 2011

    Ah, you’ve hit the nail on the head. This sort of thing has always bothered me because it sounds completely like a “separate but equal” type of deal. I think we should celebrate how far we’ve come as humans, not as men or as women.

  • Prax @ at 11:52 am, February 17th, 2011

    I noticed the same thing with black people in my AP US History textbook. Most (not all) chapters had an “oh yeah, and black people exist too” section. Rarely did they ever mention other people of color, except the first chapter or two that dealt with Native Americans.

    I don’t think we even had sections on women in every chapter. There was maybe one or two in the whole book.

  • K @ at 6:36 pm, February 17th, 2011

    what specific textbook/review book were all the patronizing headings in? it sounds quite similar to mine.

  • NWOslave @ at 7:28 pm, February 17th, 2011

    The problem with truthful history is you have to take the good with the bad. Men of noteriety are mentioned as well as notorious men.

    Take Queen Isabella for example, for funding Columbus she sat at the table with Ferdinand when they divied up the new world. Feminist love to bash Columbus as a conquerer yet never a peep how Isabelle would’ve had every American Indian slain and walked across a sea of bodies to acquire silk’s and jewels to adorn herself with. She paid for Columbus’s voyage with some of her jewels, and certainly not her best. She cared little for the common folk, their lives and deaths meant nothing to her.

    How about the modern feminism was exported from the former Soviet Union in the 1920s as a Marxist ideology to destroy the family unit which the state rightfully saw as an enemy power structure. This is where no fault divorce, default female child custody, Affirmative Action, Quota’s, ect. all originated. Today, Russia’s women outlive the men by 14 years and all the men are achoholic’s, with the state replacing men as father and husband.

    We see the same growing trend in the western world, achoholism for men is on the rise. In the early 1900s women lived on average 1 or 2 years longer then men, now the average is 7 years and growing. Or do you just want to hear how women are all good things being held back by mens wickedness? Do you want true history or fairy tales?

  • jULIET @ at 8:02 pm, February 17th, 2011

    I’m taking AP Euro this year as well, and I have also noticed a similar trend. We spend three days discussing the genius of Voltaire and Rousseau, and Olympe de Gouges and Mary Wollstonecraft get…three bullet points each.

    I’ve also noticed the separation of “history” and “women’s history”, which besides being condescending is kind of sexist.
    this comic is also relevant to this topic.

  • Talia bat Pessi @ at 10:44 pm, February 17th, 2011

    My favorite was when we were talking about the French Revolution and my teacher talked about the women’s response to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, and she was like, “Doesn’t the Declaration of the Rights of Man cover women, too?” Like, no, it doesn’t… There have been posts up here discussing “men’s studies” in the past, I think.

  • Nano Muse @ at 2:20 am, February 18th, 2011

    I wanted to take AP World history, but wasn’t allowed to. However, even in Honors World I saw hints of this!

    To be fair, my history teacher at the time made a strong effort to integrate the two “types” of history. However, the book we were using was not the most helpful.

    It’s why I liked AP U.S. History better. My APUSH teacher was very pro-civil rights (race, sex, homosexuality, ect.). He was the kind who, while teaching about the American revolution and about the new ideals of freedom at the time, made snide remarks about how it still only applied to very few people, and the concept of freedom and equality applying to a population as a whole is still a Work in Progress. I ♥ him. :)

    I think it’s not just a matter of the book in terms of representation of women, but the teacher as well – i.e. my current AP Government teacher made a point about how, while most races were starting to become well represented in Congress in correlation to their presence in the American population as a whole, women were still vastly underestimated, and Congress still leaned largely to white, male, Protestant lawyers. The teachers at my school in general are very liberal, and it shows in their teaching style.

  • Tessa @ at 9:28 pm, February 18th, 2011

    I’m also taking AP European History this year and I’ve noticed this same trend of making distinctions between women’s history and mainstream history in the course. My teacher doesn’t even try to make up for this. My teacher rarely emphasizes women’s involvement in the Enlightenment, Scientific Revolution, and Realist/Romanticism era. It really frustrates me

  • Ras @ at 5:59 pm, February 19th, 2011

    I think one of the reasons the AP does this is because it has ignored women’s history/literature/etc for a long time. This is their way of integrating it in. Yes, it’s a tad sexist, but it’s progress.

  • Shay @ at 8:42 pm, March 7th, 2011

    I am not taking AP Euro this year (though I have many friends who are, and probably should ask them about their experience with women’s history being included), but I did take AP United States History last year.

    There was a big difference in our curriculum! Women were everywhere! We discussed Republican Motherhood, the ERA, the sexual revolution, suffrage, the push for women’s equality in the 70s, all of that! I was so happy to see Ms. magazine in my APUS textbook as well. My teacher was also fabulous and brought in a plethora of primary sources that we discussed…and of course I never let my feminist perspective go unmentioned!

    I thnk a lot of it depends on how important women’s history is to your teacher…but it also depends on the students! To make a difference now, ask your teacher if he can mention women more… or raise your hand and contribute your own comments about how women influenced this particular part of European history.

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