The Women’s History Of The World by Rosalind Miles

by stephenpalmersf

Rosalind Miles’ The Women’s History Of The World opened my eyes to how history is written by winners – in this case, by men. It not only gives many examples of women sidelined or ignored by male historians, it also analyses why this process happens. The book is split into four sections: prehistory, the rise of the city-state and patriarchy, the appearance of empire and colonialization, and the feminist response.

Miles is particularly scornful of how male prejudice led to ridiculous theories of the rise of consciousness, society, language and culture via hunting, which men seemed to think – as many still do – was the pre-eminent human achievement. The true nature of hunting and gathering is described, not least as a male/female group activity. Later chapters deal with the Goddess and her overthrow. The three Abrahamic religions are dealt with as the woman-hating, feminine-mocking structures that they are, while the many brilliant women scholars of history are described later, both as examples of high skill and as examples of how women were and continue to be sidelined in scholarly pursuits. It’s truly extraordinary to think that not until 1948 could a woman be awarded a degree by Cambridge University. That’s just 69 years ago.

Contraception and women’s ownership of their own bodies is seen by Miles as a vital part of later political revolutions, while the terrible legacy of Freud and his ilk (who for all his brilliance was an appalling misogynist) is seen as having cast a long and dark shadow – a shadow that damages women’s lives today. Modern feminism meanwhile (as Germaine Greer recently observed) does itself a disservice if it merely limits itself to the political, social and cultural structures built by men, since those structures are usually inimical to humane living. Feminism is a sub-category of humanism, and humanists should despise patriarchy as much as feminists do.

This is a brilliant book. There have been other books with a similar remit, but this one, despite its very broad range, which limits the discussion of particular historical periods, is a particularly good one. It could and should be a school text book, both for its information and for its thesis that history is a male fix and a con.

Womens history