Women are mostly kept out of history books, and if they are marvellous enough to have made it into them their images most likely did not
History is a past retold, a series of events that have been documented by those who have witnessed their occurrence. It is human nature to write of that which interests us, of facts that are deemed essential at the time of inscription and that is why history as is documented, is as much an interpretation, as it is a collection of facts. The names and events that have made it into history books have changed the world one way or the other, their existence and our knowledge of it is essential, but what of those names that were never uttered by history teachers, are their world-altering actions erased? Or do their trials and tribulations factor into the shaping of the future whether they are remembered or not?
If we casually flick through the history books we are most likely to see pages filled with iconic figures that have left their imprint on the world, most of which are men. Great and not-so-great men have both maimed and healed our world simultaneously and from their experiences we have much to learn. Even those of us who are not prolific in politics, sports or technology are instantaneously able to recognise an image of such men as Che Guevara, Maradona and Steve Jobs. Though just as it may be, to have such figures made iconic and embraced by pop-culture how many of those faces we see on posters, T-shirts and spray-painted on walls are of women? Does that mean that throughout history no woman has ever been iconic enough? Or is it that the telling of her story was not deemed essential to those documenting at the time of inscription? No female face would be so widely and easily identified except maybe those of whom who made it to the silver screen. Could you point out Florence Nightingale in a series of photos like you would Marilyn Monroe? Would you know the great Fatima al-Fihri’s contribution to the world just as you would Umm Kulthum’s?
Throughout the world and specifically throughout the Middle-Eastern one, much to do with women is concealed. Women are mostly kept out of history books, and if they are marvellous enough to have made it into them their images most likely did not. This makes it impossible for people to know of them and for those searching for them it makes for an absolutely exhausting task, in turn their accomplishments and impact on the world are rendered obsolete and the chance of people learning from them non-existent. Just as is the way of the world, change is inevitable and for women’s struggle with history, change is coming.
Recently Muslim women have become more visible than they ever were, standing up to oppression and advocating the plight of minorities around the world. In a visual world where icons are required their images have helped immortalise their work. Malala Yousafzai’s survival and perseverance has become a representation of all women facing the horrors of extremism and the plight for female education. Young girls today have forces such as seventeen-year-old Ahed Tamimi, whose brave defiance in the face of Zionist settlers landed her in prison, catapulting her to icon-status for resistance against occupation around the world. Women have become revolutionary icons, Iranian Neda Agha-Soltan, a student, who died from a fatal shot to the head during protests in Tehran has become a symbol of an entire revolution. Along with Egypt’s Ghada Kamal Abdul Khaleq, known to the Western press as the Girl in the Blue Bra and affectionately dubbed Sitt el Banat (Leader of the Girls) in Egypt, whose image being dragged half-naked by police has become a source of artistic representation of oppression.
During the Women’s March against the Trump administration in the United States an image of Munira Ahmed wearing the American flag as a Hijab (headdress) became the representation of American tolerance and pro-immigration ideals. And the latest brave soul who was unfortunately taken too soon is Palestinian Razan Najjar, a twenty-one-year-old paramedic, who spent her days saving the lives of fellow countrymen and women peacefully protesting the Israeli occupation. She was killed in cold blood by an Israeli sniper while attending to the injured, she will forever be a symbol of humanity amidst bloodshed.
Because we have borne witness to those women who have shattered glass ceilings and died for their rights we have the obligation to correct the errors of the past, to not let their work go unnoticed, to broadcast, interview, write and teach about those women who are changing our world. In the near future the images in history will differ and the faces who changed the world would no longer be reserved for the masculine. We always knew history to be a story told by him but the future will have one that is written by her as well.