Axver (axver) wrote,

  • Music:

Speaking of history ...

As I've mentioned in posts before, New Zealand was the first country to give women the vote, and the only country to do so in the 19th century. Now, take a look at some of the publications on the topic and see if you spot the pattern:

A Fair Field and No Favour: The Story of Margaret Home Sievwright, 1844-1905, Maxine McGrannachan.
Kate Sheppard: A Biography, Judith Devaliant.
Maori Women and the Vote, Tania Rei.
Maud and Amber: A New Zealand Mother and Daughter and the Women's Cause, 1865 to 1881, Ruth Fry.
Out of the Home and into the House: New Zealand Women's Fight to Enter Parliament, Sandra Wallace.
The Suffragists, Women Who Worked for the Vote: Essays from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, ed. Claudia Orange.
The Vote, the Pill, and the Demon Drink: A History of Feminist Writing in New Zealand, 1869-1993, ed. Charlotte Macdonald.
The Woman Question: Writings by the Women Who Won the Vote, ed. Margaret Lovell-Smith.
Women's Suffrage in New Zealand, Patricia Grimshaw.

Yes, the pattern is that without exception, every single author is female. There are 28 essays in the collection from the DNZB edited by Claudia Orange; not a male author in sight. Looking more internationally, authors on women's suffrage remain predominantly women. In the women's suffrage centenary issue of the Victorian Historical Journal, for instance, just one of the fifteen articles is written by a man.

I mentioned this in my last post, but I am considerably dissatisfied with the fact that your typical A History of New Zealand and A History of Australia (works typically written by men) brush over women's suffrage with just a paragraph or two. There are some exceptions, but even in the case of the exceptions, the treatment is still grossly insubstantial, and comparatively pathetic to the treatment given to other subjects. I was impressed to see that Manning Clark gave two whole pages to Louisa Lawson in his epic history of Australia, and in multiple other places references female suffrage and provides a touch of actual analysis rather than just bland chronology, but his history does extend to six whole volumes, so it's still comparatively a pittance.

Why have male historians been so utterly disinterested in women's suffrage? I personally consider New Zealand's enfranchisement of women to be one of the country's greatest historical moments - in fact, I cannot think of any other national achievements that I would consider in quite the same league. The whole movement fascinates me. This little country, barely 53 years old in Pakeha terms, located in one of the most far-flung and isolated parts of the planet, did what no established national polity had dared to do. So why the lack of interest? I can understand that the majority of historians writing about the event would be women, given it was feminist historians who seriously revived interest in the event in the first place - but an (almost total) absence of men? Come on, guys.

As a Kiwi male historian, this troubles me deeply.

Moreover, it's an issue I plan to do something about.
Tags: historiography, history, new zealand, women's suffrage

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