Hatted Men and Penned Women

History and its knowledge play an important role in molding the identity of individuals. It also informs us about important and legitimized discourses and values in society. Historically, historiography has been weaving the story of men, relegating women to the role of silent observers in the collective past, almost erased from its pages.

In the article, the author examines current methods and practices of "restoring" women in history, highlighting a socially just interpretation of the past and proposing a feminist alternative for future historiography.

საარქივო ფოტო, ქალი კითხულობს

The History of Men in Hats (about Women)

As a child, history didn't engage me, and I couldn't fathom why. The educational approach prevalent in the school system then – focused on rote learning dry dates, names, and facts devoid of logic, the so-called obligation to cram —was deemed the only valid version. I consistently accepted this explanation, yet with each utterance, a lingering dissatisfaction arose. It felt like an incomplete truth, as if something was being substituted, though I couldn't grasp what.

History, however, still managed to spark my dormant interest. One person who "contributed" to this was the historical historian Timothy Snyder. During his lecture, when he couldn't recall the precise year of a crucial event, he remarked, "It doesn't matter exactly which year," emphasizing the paramount importance of the geopolitical logic behind the events. This magical solace, seemingly meant for me, had a profound effect on me – my furrowed forehead eased, and my mind opened up. The fragmented knowledge of historical facts in my mind came together like a puzzle, and I even found myself considering a path as a historian.

Ever since, I've been devouring history.

Yet, there remains an obstacle. Before I delve into the meticulously acquired and intensively downloaded PDFs from the internet, I still need to muster the courage to read history. Here, too, I found the most readily available explanation –  it was a sensation reminiscent of the courting phase, but with history. However, it revealed itself as only a substitute.

At another book festival, at the counter of one of the publishing houses, I laid my hands on a hefty book delving into a historical period that intrigued me. The publisher, assuming my unfamiliarity with this era, briefly outlined the book.[1] For a moment, a vision of men in hats materialized before me—hatted figures in black tailcoats, adorned with beards, mustaches, and even stylish canes. A display of manliness, characterized by stern looks and self-righteous demeanor. They seemed the type to engage in political debates, often for the sake of argument itself, an ego-massage sacrificed for a purpose with dire consequences. I believe I even grimaced, as the publisher's expression shifted too. Regrettably, I placed the book back on the counter, and the image slipped from my mind. My heart sank—why didn't I make the purchase? What held me back?

I dwelled on this for weeks, my mind restless, replaying its video recording of that encounter, yet yielding no answers. Seemingly out of nowhere, the hooded men reemerged in my thoughts, then all of a sudden my mind opened up.

I did not desire to open the book, where I had to read mostly about men—manly men, excluding women and everyone else. I had and have to read about men, from the sidelines, from a distance. Men who made decisions for themselves, for one another, or against each other, "with the shield or on it." These were men in hats, where others existed merely as background figures.

This trend has persisted for subsequent generations. According to WeResearch's 2021 survey, titled "Georgia's Youth and History," only 18% of respondents mentioned women when naming historical figures (p. 51). Women historical figures have historically received minimal attention in studies, with many women's names absent from historiography. Respondents also acknowledged that their studies predominantly focus on "men's history" (ibid.).

Women in Men’s History Vs. Women’s History

they ask me to remember

but they want me to remember

their memories

and i keep on remembering


- Lucille Clifton

why some people be mad at me sometimes, 1987

Gilbert and Gubar (2004) write that, according to Jane Austen, history at large can be viewed as a "Uniform drama of masculine posturing that is no less a fiction (and a potentially pernicious one) than  gothic romance " (p. 81). They argue that this fiction of history reflects indifference towards women, as women are absent participants and almost entirely vanish from its pages. According to Austen, as to Virginia Woolf, women observe the male-dominated history from a “disillusioned and disaffected perspective of an outsider” (ibid.).

The initial phase of "restoring" women in history usually involves the search for and transmission of the names and narratives of "significant women." Compensatory History (Lerner, 1975, p. 5) seeks to identify women achievers in history. However, the definition and measurement of achievement often still adhere to the historiography of men, reflecting patriarchal values and standards. According to these criteria, women restored in history may include monarchs, conquerors, defenders and propagators of patriarchal religion, militaristic figures, inventors in science and technology, women CEOs, etc., or women who radically deviate from these established norms. It turns out that areas of achievement are a priori given and defined, with history seeking women who have succeeded and "progressed" to the upper levels of the patriarchal structure/hierarchy or deviated from it in extreme ways. However, when examining the history of women, such individuals do not represent women's history. They are women who ended up as exceptions in the history of men, making little impact on shaking the existing oppressive, dominant order/system. Yet, when looking at the everyday (rather than geopolitical) history of society, the history of women's existence is primarily reflected not in masculine achievements but in the provision of everyday life, largely involving caring activities; caring for and taking care of the family, the commune, the house, the yard, and the environment; caring for men who go to the arena of [making] history in the morning and return to women in the evening. It is women who craft the psycho-social fabric necessary for the reproduction and functioning of society—women who work. Women's history is predominantly a history of womanhood, a history of being a woman.

The subsequent phase in conceptualizing women's history is to identify women's contributions to change. Contribution History (ibid.) endeavors to explore how, in the struggle for and against various forces, women have played a role in social changes. However, even in this approach, the emphasis remains predominantly on the patriarchal achievement perspective, aligning with masculine standards, and neglects the individuals, processes, and consequences that facilitated these achievements. The focus of attention and appreciation in contribution history is two-fold: firstly, on women's leadership and pioneering efforts in various fields and activities, often referred to as "Famous firsts”; and secondly, on women's vulnerable legal and socio-economic condition, including changes in labor codes achieved by feminized professions for the benefit of society. However, the feminist processes, spaces, and narratives arising from these initiatives are often overlooked and go unrecognized. The emphasis is not placed on the feminist foundations of change, nor is there a feminist interpretation of the necessity and consequences of change. Such an interpretation would recognize and oppose the insidious oppression embedded in the patriarchal system. Contribution history fails to acknowledge that women's bodies, consciousness, and lives have historically been dominated by rules created by men. It also overlooks how women, with the support of other women, have been able to cultivate feminist consciousness and establish social networks themselves.

Contribution history[2] is a crucial and perhaps inevitable stage in the creation of women's history. It is essential that a significant focus of women's history revolves around the struggle against women's rights inequality, exploring the history of women's movements and their leaders. Such historical inquiry raises intricate questions and theories, establishing a vital foundation for recognizing the historical significance of women. However, we should not view this gaze uncritically. It's important to note that a considerable portion of such historiography still operates within a traditional conceptual framework. It formulates questions and criticisms alongside manly/masculine/patriarchal standards and categories, attempting to "fit women's past into the empty spaces of historical scholarship" (ibid., p. 13). This becomes particularly evident given that the majority of "authors of history" are men, with a male gaze, thereby neglecting a multifactorial, intersectional analysis of the marginalization of women and other oppressed groups in history.

Accordingly, the next stage of conceptualizing women's history involves multi-layered research, intersectional phenomenology, and critical analysis of women's experiences. This approach diverges from men's descriptions of women's condition, accentuating women's experiences and the transformative nature of the processes they generate on various systems and societies.

Feminist historiography underscores the significance of a socially just reading and interpretation of history. Utilizing diverse research methods that heavily focus on sources like women's correspondence, diaries, autobiographies, and oral histories, it phenomenologically examines the experiences of women and other oppressed groups, contextualizing them within historical narratives. The shift from men-oriented to women-oriented consciousness, often referred to as Transitional History (ibid.), leads to new, integrated interpretations not only of women's history but also of society(s) history. Feminist historiography enables a critique of dominant history and narratives that overlook the role of women and other marginalized groups in social transformation. Through this lens, we can illustrate how ideas and practices related to gender, sexuality, socioeconomic class, race, culture, ethnicity, religiosity, age, physical abilities, citizenship, and other social identities are central to historical change or immutability (Rotramel, 2020).

Lucille Clifton's poem "why some people be mad at me sometimes" can be interpreted as a reflection on historical or social memory. In this poem, Clifton adeptly portrays and critiques the societal pressure placed on her as a black woman—to relinquish her own (historical) memory and adopt the legitimized, dominant memory and discourses imposed by society as her "own" memory. Contrary to societal expectations, Clifton relies on her own memories, interpreting them through her unique experience and perspective. Similarly, feminist historians aim to challenge the established masculine perspective on human history, striving for a narrative that reflects the individual and collective memory and perspectives of women and other marginalized groups (Rotramel, 2020).

Knowledge of Women's History in Georgia

History and its knowledge play a crucial role in the lives of citizens, shaping national and personal identities, including in Georgia (see WeResearch, 2021 for overview of existing research).

History textbooks, like all textbooks, stand as one of the most prevalent sources of knowledge. They play a crucial role in the learning and education process, contributing significantly to personality development and formation. These textbooks serve as potent cultural, ideological, and political tools within society, actively participating in the socialization of adolescents. Given their approval by state authorities, textbooks carry a strong and authoritative nature. Past knowledge, legitimized by government and authority, is transmitted to adolescents through textbooks (Chiponda & Wassermann, 2011). Despite the presence of alternative and supplementary sources, school textbooks continue to be a vital component of the national curriculum and state education policy. In 2021, school books were identified as the most frequent source of information about history by 26% of surveyed students, closely followed by the Internet (34%) and the media (25%) (WeResearch, 2021, p. 55).[3] The significance of textbooks and their potential for influence becomes even more pronounced when considering that they are deemed the most reliable source of information for students (80%), whereas the reliability of the Internet is not as high (47%) (ibid., p. 62).

As noted earlier, women's names are seldom mentioned in [Georgia's] history. However, beyond quantitative representation, it is essential to explore the discourses that textbooks present about historical women. Specifically, what discourses do (mostly men) authors attribute to women from history? Who are the women we teach about? Consequently, what do adolescents glean from the narratives surrounding these women?

While scientific studies on historiography and women, as well as gender analysis of school textbooks, are becoming more common in different countries, such research has only recently begun in Georgia and is not distinguished by frequency and public awareness. According to a 2012 study (for a review, see WeResearch, 2021), elementary-level history and civics textbooks not only significantly lagged in terms of women representation but also contained content strongly reflecting traditional gender stereotypes. Moreover, these textbooks did not sufficiently focus on gender inequality, the importance of equality, women's rights, the history of the struggle for women's rights, etc. The young people of Georgia reduce the unifiers of Georgia, defenders of the country, and supporters of education to mere idols. Among the nation's proud women forebears,[4] young people most proudly name King Tamar (95%), together with Davit Agmashenebeli (95%). Religious figures St. Nino (88%) and St. Shushanik (84%), as well as poet Ana Kalandadze (86%), painter Elene Akhvlediani (69%), and Maro Makashvili (67%) (killed during the 1921 Red Army invasion of Georgia, the first woman to be awarded the Georgian Order of National Hero) are also leading (WeResearch, 2021, p. 48). Even in response to an open question of naming one outstanding hero among the historical figures who were women, only King Tamar (16%) was named often, after Davit Agmashenebeli (26%) (WeResearch, 2021, p. 49).

We rarely have the luxury of exploring women's contribution history and feminist research of women's history in Georgia, but various authors have published a number of important archival and contemporary phenomenological works. For instance, Lela Gaprindashvili (2016) sheds light on women who played a pivotal role in Georgia's literacy society, their names absent from the society's monument. Ana Bakanidze (2020), drawing from 19th-century press materials, unveils stories of women from various professions who "changed their lives and the lives of others," their names overlooked in history books. Tamta Melashvili (2019) delves into the life of Liziko Kavtaradze, deemed "the most prominent dissident woman in the history of Georgia," analyzing her memoirs on 28 years of Gulag experience. Nino Tskipurishvili (2020) explores the experiences and roles of women at the back of the Second World War front in Georgia, analyzing their personal correspondence within the context of the Soviet government's gender policy. The Taso Foundation and the Soviet Past Research Laboratory "have significantly contributed to the study of women's history. Consequently, the question arises: Why is the history of women not widely known?[5]

Given the significance of textbooks, another way to pose this question would be:

Why is women's history absent from school textbooks?

Because historiography is not (yet) feminist. Compensatory and contributory narratives play a crucial role in the transition to feminist historiography. Ideally, this path wouldn't be gradual and hierarchical, but reality reveals that women's inclusion in history and the feminist interpretation face numerous obstacles, including institutional barriers (WeResearch, 2021). Breaking the multi-thousand-year-old cultural and institutional dominance of hatted man demands a gradual resistance. Hence, the history of Georgia, like history of many other countries, grapples with the ongoing challenge of women's representation.

Contemporary research on both current and historical women, and experiences needs to adopt a woman’s gaze, gaze from below, that is feminist, intersectional, and phenomenological. This approach serves a dual purpose: it offers a feminist critique and advocates for socially just transformations in our present experiences and structures. Simultaneously, it paves the way for future historiography with fewer patriarchal barriers, enabling access to women's history and contributing to the construction of a feminist, socially just historiography.

Women must write. Write about women.

“Writing is a way of continuing to hope.”- Lucille Clifton (2000).


Works Cited

Bakanidze, A. (2020, April 14). Women in the Georgian press. South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: Feminism and Gender Democracy. https://feminism-boell.org/ka/2020/04/14/kalebi-kartul-presashi

Gaprindashvili, L. (2016, June 7). A monument of the society spreading literacy among Georgians. South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: Feminism and Gender Democracy. https://feminism-boell.org/ka/2016/06/07/kartvelta-shoris-cera-kitxvis-gamavrcelebeli-sazogadoebis-monumenti

Melashvili, T. (2019, July 24). Liziko Kavtaradze: Georgian Memoirs of the Gulag. South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: Feminism and Gender Democracy. https://feminism-boell.org/ka/2019/07/24/liziko-kavtaraze-gulagis-kartuli-memuarebi

Tskipurishvili, N. (2020). "Back Housekeepers": Portraying the Role of Women in World War II by Georgian Personal Correspondence. South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Böll Foundation: Feminism and Gender Democracy. https://feminism-boell.org/ka/2021/01/12/zurgis-diasakhlisebi

Chiponda, A., & Wassermann, J. (2011). Women in history textbooks: what message does this send to the youth?. Yesterday and Today, (6), 13-25.

Clifton, L. (2012). The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton 1965-2010. BOA Editions, Ltd..

Clifton, L., & Glaser, M. S. (2000). I'd Like Not to Be a Stranger in the World: A Conversation/Interview with Lucille Clifton. The Antioch Review, 310-328.

Gilbert, S.M. & Gubar, S. (2004). Jane Austen. In: H. Bloom (Ed.). Shut Up in Prose: Gender and Genre in Austen’s Juvenilia (pp. 57-96). Chelsea House Publishers.

Lerner, G. (1975). Placing women in history: Definitions and challenges. Feminist Studies3(1/2), 5-14.

Rotramel, A. (2020). Feminist Historiography. Companion to Feminist Studies, 301-320.

WeResearch. (2021). Georgian Youth and History: A Survey of Experiences, Attitudes and Values. South Caucasus Regional Office of the Heinrich Boell Foundation. https://ge.boell.org/ka/2022/04/28/sakartvelos-akhalgazrdebi-da-istoria



[1] I wonder whether the publisher's assumption that I knew little about history or the specific historical period was linked to their perception of me as a woman.

[2] Which, ironically, can be also called contributory history.

[3] Active knowledge production through alternative sources faces substantial limitations. In the Georgian context, this is tied to the scarcity of alternative information in the native language of adolescents and subsequent restricted access to it. Additionally, the state holds a monopoly on defining "correct" knowledge and legitimizing specific knowledges. Even with complete access to abundant alternative information, this monopoly persists through the control of exam questions and the determination of "correct" answers required for educational degrees.

[4] The question presented a list of 27 esteemed real and mythological heroes, with 7 of them being women.

[5] Young people’s self-assessment of their knowledge of history tends to be relatively low. Specifically, when asked to rate their knowledge of the history of Georgia on a scale of 1 to 10, only 11% gave the highest rating of 10 points (WeResearch, 2021, p. 38).