When the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” turned 50 on June 1, many critics and music lovers praised it as a work that both helped to create the modern concept album and became the anthem for the Summer of Love generation. From the innovative cover design to the musical mashups that included a 40-piece orchestra and a “kazoo” made of toilet paper and a comb, “Sgt. Pepper” seemed to be all about change and freedom. Continue reading…
BY LINDA KINSTLER
Enheduanna. Hatshepsut. Empress Wu. Murasaki Shikibu. These ancient women were the first feminist trailblazers, yet they’ve been largely expunged from the historical record.
Enheduanna, daughter of Sargon the Great of Sumer, became the world’s first recorded author in the third millennium BCE. Hatshepsut ruled the Kingdom of Egypt for 20 years, adopting the full regalia of a male king — beard included — before her successor had all signs of her reign erased. Empress Wu, also known as Wu Zetian, united the Chinese empire and reigned as sole monarch for fifteen years before her successors also tried to obliterate her achievements. Murasaki Shikibu wrote the world’s first novel, the Tale of Genji, between 1001-1010 AD. Her real name and personal details remain largely unknown.
These influential women are just a few of the female iconoclasts featured in The Ascent of Woman, Dr. Amanda Foreman’s four-part BBC documentary that premiered to U.S. viewers on Netflix earlier this month. The series aims to “retell the story of civilization with women and men side by side for the first time,” as Foreman declares in the introduction. Reinscribing women into their rightful places in the human story, the documentary corrects the erasures of history’s male heirs. Continue reading…
This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine.
1) Enheduanna: Priestess, poet, princess, and the first named writer (c2285–2250 BC)
The daughter of the Mesopotamian king Sargon the Great, the Akkadian who unified central and southern Mesopotamia, Enheduanna was appointed high priestess by her father in a bid to prove his right as the empire’s ruler.
Enheduanna was the unifier. The Sumerian civilisation of southern Mesopotamia had been conquered but the two peoples needed to be melded into one empire. It was her job, as high priestess, to use her religious power and influence to unite them.
But Enheduanna is not remarkable only for the power that she wielded, she was also an accomplished writer who is widely recognised as being the first known person to attach a signature to her written works.
Enheduanna makes an offering to the gods in this votive plaque from c2300–2275 BC. © Penn Museum Continue reading…
by Bridey Heing
In her BBC documentary and forthcoming book, historian and author Amanda Foreman uncovers the historical precedents that have erased women throughout human civilization.
History has long been a boys’ club, from the people being written about to the people writing the books. But historian and author Amanda Foreman is out to change that. With her recent four-part series on BBC aptly called “The Ascent of Woman,” she told the story of women in civilization in four parts. That, however, was just a warm-up. Her upcoming book, The World Made By Women: A History of Women From the Apple to the Pill, is the story of humanity from the perspective of the female half.
Here, Dr. Foreman shares her thoughts on the origins of patriarchy, the historical conspiracy responsible for silencing women, and the figures hidden in history whom we should all know more about.
Since ancient times, it has been the practice of the victors to obliterate the culture of the losers. The images of ISIS destroying the world’s historical monuments are a sad reminder of the totalitarian nature of conquest.
The first cultural conquest wasn’t of a nation or tribe however, it was of women and specifically their means to self-expression. In the 23rd Century BC, the high priestess of Sumer, Enheduanna, invented literature. She was the first person to realise that writing could do more than record a contract, send a message, or convey facts. It was her genius and vision that resulted in the creation of the poet, poetry, and literary form.
Sargon the Great, her father, had appointed Enheduanna high priestess in the hope that she would be able to help him unite the disparate cities of Sumer into a single functioning empire. She more than rose to the challenge, using religious poetry to create a unified theological tradition that embraced all the Sumerian gods and goddesses under one political entity, the rule of Sargon.
By James Delingpole
Finally I realise why women are so pissed off. It all goes back to the first codified laws — circa 2,400 bc — when rules like this were invented by men: ‘If a woman speaks out of turn then her teeth will be smashed by a brick.’ Before that, apparently, women lived on a pretty equal footing with their future male oppressors. Indeed, in arguably the first civilisation — a hive-like collection of houses in central Anatolia called Çatalhöyük dating back to 7,500 bc, when mankind was just beginning to emerge from the Stone Age and living with semi-domesticated animals — not a single man was expected to put out the bins while the women dealt with the easy tasks like cooking, washing, child-rearing, ironing, cleaning and leafing through holiday brochures.
That’s because everything was shared equally. Everyone’s house was the same size and everything, including children, was common property. Once you’d given birth, your child would be handed over to the neighbours and they’d bring it up in their household. This bound everyone together in communal loyalty and affection and peace, over 9,000 years before John met Yoko and wrote ‘Imagine’.
Here’s a snippet to make the jaw drop. The women of Ancient Greece (you know, the place that created democracy) were so restricted in what they could do that they were no better off than the poor women of Afghanistan under the Taliban.
Meanwhile just down the road in Ancient Egypt women were treated almost as equals of men, so much so there were six lady pharaohs… who would have thought it? All this and more came to light during the brilliantly inter- THE ASCENT OF WOMAN (BBC2) which took as its eminently reasonable thesis the fact that although women have always comprised half the human race we don’t seem to have featured very prevalently in the history of mankind.
The noted historian Amanda Foreman set out to find out why. Unfortunately, as scholarly and thought- provoking as this new four- part documentary series was, I’m not sure she ever really answered the question. In the earliest known societies, as far as anyone can tell, men and women really did live equally, sharing all manner of But this all changed pretty sharpish when society became more prosperous, resources were not shared equally and some people started to have greater status than others.
By Simon Usborne
In the current debate about the new feminism, and daily assaults on equality, I do not recall anyone stepping back very far from the contemporary world of pay gaps and thigh gaps to ask the most basic question: why is this a thing? Where do the roots of sexism lead, and how long are they? In the first episode of The Ascent of Woman, a scholarly yet pacy four-part documentary, Dr Amanda Foreman started her search for answers a long, long way back. As far as archaeologists can tell, Catalhöyük, a 9,000-year-old city in modern-day Turkey, was an equal society, and God was a seated woman attended by leopards.
Then things got bad. With agricultural surplus came currency and power, the harvesting of which chiefly became the concern of men and their bloodlines. After the Anatolian leopard woman, a figurine of whom Foreman observed, her binder of game-changing women were exceptions to the patriarchal rule.
By Ruth Styles
From Boadicea of the Iceni to Queen Victoria, there is no shortage of women who have made their mark on history.
But for every Eleanor of Aquitaine or Elizabeth I, there have been many more whose efforts have gone unrecognised, largely because of their sex.
Now a new BBC series, the Ascent of Women, aims to change all that and shed light on the forgotten heroines of the past.
From the start, says presenter and historian Amanda Foreman, men have ‘conspired’ to control speech while women, lacking the educational opportunities of their male peers, have failed to realise that ‘speech is power’.
But not everyone has been content to remain silent. From the Celtic warrior queen who kept the Romans from her door to the Sumerian priestess who invented literature, meet the women who deserve to be remembered.