Listening to Women

Year after year history keeps repeating itself. I’ve been writing a biography of Margaret Fuller, the 19th century feminist, writer, and foreign correspondent. It’s fascinating to discover how the same patterns of reaction to women continue two hundred years after Margaret was born. Recently Bonnie Hurd Smith, a historian who often writes about the importance of history in everyday life, wrote an article about Why Women’s History Matters in which she points out that young women today are still struggling to take themselves seriously and find the courage to do determine their own goals in life. As she says “We women are still taught to put everyone else first, and then we beat ourselves up when things don’t go well for us.” Today women’s history is seldom taught in schools except for a few elite colleges and universities. Girls growing up do not have role models to show them that women have struggled through the centuries for the right to participate in society and use their talents fully. Margaret Fuller had to fight all her life for the right to be accepted as one of the leading American intellectuals of her time. In the years since her death, many biographies still treat her life as a search for finding romantic fulfillment. Her life story degenerates into gossip about her happy marriage late in life to a younger Italian man. Despite the range of her activities and the extent of her influence in her times and on generations that followed, many people still judge her life only on the basis of her marriage as though everything else she did was merely marking time waiting for “Mr. Right”. We owe it to the girls of today to let them know how many women in the past have built their own lives and struggled to reach the point where we are today. Only then will we be able to empower all women to make a life for themselves.

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