I have been told all my life that women have never created or done anything worth writing about. I was told that it has always been this way, that men are meant to dominate, that many men are violent, that there are inevitably wars, and that women are to be kept dependent on a man so that we have no way to live on our own. We were taught that men are smarter, that women have never invented anything, and that women who challenge this story are to be shunned.
Instead of being shown respect, the research that has been done by women that show long periods of time in which there was both peace and leadership by women has been hidden from us. We have been told that it is naive and unrealistic to believe that it is possible for people to live with each other without violence. We would catch glimpses of evidence of respect for women, of leadership, of women in ceremony together, of women drumming, of traditions that honoured nature, especially of trees, plants, gardens, water. Hidden stories of long periods of time in which there was no violence at all. We are told that these are myths.
A number of women older than me have devoted their lives to digging for information, finding it in the stories passed mother to daughter, inscribed through art in stone, in figurines, on cliff walls, inside caves, in burial grounds. Paintings and carvings of women with drums, women meeting under the trees, women working together, women in ceremony with each other, women as respected leaders. Censorship, ridicule and violence have covered the path to finding this information.
Questioning in school led to ridicule, and the books had a very explicit story that we were told is the only truth. That men have always ruled. All through our lives we are told that women have never been leaders. Women speaking out about this lie are silenced or labeled dangerous. We are told it is a fantasy and that it has always been this way.
This censorship of the perspective and information from women, the punishment of anyone pushing against the invisible barriers, the bits and pieces of news that women have passed down through generations to let us know about times in the past, this censorship is what we continue to experience. Now we can describe what we have learned by looking carefully at the pieces that tell a different story from the one we are given as the only truth.
Recently I had the chance to witness a whole group of these women who have dedicated their lives to researching our herstory, stories of women throughout time. Over four days we met online sharing research and stories, with some like me, there to learn, absorb and plan to share. We have been taught that the leaders have always been men, and that it is the duty of women to obey every rule men make. We are threatened, silenced if we speak up or break out of the boundaries continually forced on us. For years this information has been filtering through the barriers, passed from mother to daughter, sister to sister. Too often it has been lost, censored, disbelieved. These researching women have been devoting their lives documenting it, and as I learn I want to bring it here so that it is known, and in safekeeping. So that it can be added to, by others here who have also learned bits and pieces of our heritage as women.
I have learned through these women who gathered at this conference about times and places in which women were and are respected leaders. Councils of women who met and meet and were and are respected leaders in their communities. Councils of indigenous women lead the way still today, holding traditions that have never been broken. These researching women brought news of peaceful times from 5000 bce and on through to today, stories of respected women leaders.
As I listened and learned, something shifted in me. I had long celebrated the bits and pieces of news of women’s achievements. I have long meant to study the work of these women researchers. We are finding out that women were inventors. That many inventions have been stolen by men. That there was peaceful trading among people, and with surplus shared equally in community. Times throughout centuries of communities in which land was in women’s names, with all people living and buried in equal dignity. A circle dance “ring around the roses” that I remember as a child I now learn this many years later was ceremony honouring daughters. I learned that values held in communities were never aggressive, that there was gift giving and sharing. I learned of ceremonies surrounding birth, and the honouring of the Earth with traditions of burying the umbilical cord and placenta to thank the Earth for making it possible for us to live. I learned that women were leaders in spiritual ceremonies, kept known by paintings and carvings on stone walls, on pottery, woven into fabric. Yet we are still being told that women have never been and must never be trusted as leaders, that we are not to be trusted to meet together, that we are to be kept as indentured labour for men, that violence done to us is to be expected and likely deserved, proven continually to be our fault. That we are to be kept from being independent and free, and that independent women are especially not to be trusted, and should be silenced.
These researching women have been studying times when grandmothers were role models, with ceremonies for women giving birth, and always a sharing of the harvest and a giving back to the earth. Times showing that women have always been farmers, where spirituality is focussed on nurturing children, plants and mother earth, and people living in harmony.
Stories of women drumming in circle are documented on cave walls and stone cliffs, with images of women harvesting, and of women sitting in circle with each other under trees, being consulted as leaders respectfully by men.
Instead we are considered dangerous as women because we are linking arms, meeting together, speaking together, sharing this important information with each other, identifying the roadblocks, trusting what we know is possible, empowered by learning our own past as women, our herstory.
It has shifted me, to find out that there were and are communities in which everyone shares. To discover through burial grounds the communities in which everyone was loved. To see that women so long before us were respected undoes this enormous lie. Women my age and older were told that women don't drum. To have been able to meet a woman who some time ago fought to drum, who now teaches women to drum, to have the chance to dance to these drums has given me strength to continue, with a constant reminder that it has not always been the way I have been told, nor has it always been the way it is these days, with women still not respected and free.
My own determination to discover why so many of my ancestresses, 9 million were tortured and burned at the stake not long ago in Europe, and to know why women are still labelled witches, and why women and girls are still controlled, kept from school, punished for speaking about the need for respect, my mourning the continuing torturous violence against women and girls, my questioning how a half century can have passed by of false promises, all these violent punishments that women endure for speaking out have continually resolved and deepened my commitment to see girls and women respected and free to choose what we want to do with our lives. This is my reason for being, and I cherish meeting and working with so many others on this same path.
This violent reality feeds the strong combination of both fury and celebration, that we are collectively learning the true stories, and that we are finding each other.
Most of my life I knew little to nothing about cultures in which women and girls were and are respected and cherished. Instead I witnessed over and over again women’s voices being stifled. But now through the work of women determined to find proof and send out the information to us all, we know that our foremothers wanted us to know, to experience and to carry forward women’s ceremonies, that women’s bodies were sacred, that egalitarian societies existed and are possible. They painted it on pottery, they carved it onto walls, they passed it on in story and song. And somehow we know, and carry it in our bones, recreating it together even before finding the proof.
Those of us who point to these discrepancies and realities continue to be attacked, but it is important that the information be known. Long periods of time with no war. Indigenous people living in harmony with the earth and each other for centuries. Indigenous women across the world, respected leaders. Centuries with no war, until the desire for control brought domination and the suppression of peaceful cultures. The colonialism still happening today.
The history I was taught in schools was all about wars. Ancient goddesses, hidden. Peaceful communities, hidden. Women writers, philosophers, inventors, hidden. Women bringing this information forward, ridiculed. Indigenous cultures with respected women leaders, hidden and attacked. Communities living in harmony with the earth declared a myth. Matriarchies accused of being the opposite of patriarchy, evidence of centuries of peace in communities that honour women leadership, hidden. Leadership by women, hidden and continually attacked to this day. Most recently, the horror of men negotiating between governments dominated by men, with our sisters in the entire country of Afghanistan forced back indoors. Most recently and continually, the important documentation of ongoing violence and our successes in bringing women and girls together to heal, talk, plan, speak out, known by the stories we continue to share with each other.
With our connections through World Pulse, and through all of the gatherings of women in which the voices of women are given space to be heard, in which we have the chance to share knowledge and information with each other, we are able to work together for this rebalancing, this urgent work, this work to free every girl, this work to honour all women, this work to end all violence toward anyone breaking free of patriarchal rules, backed by this research that has been done, that it has not always been this way. We who have known all our lives that we are here to create change, to create peace, to create societies in which it is taught that violence is unacceptable, societies in which women are respected and free, in which everyone lives peacefully with each other. We can know now through these herstorians that this has been done in the past, and that it is not only possible but essential for our collective survival and for our beloved planet Earth.
I hope that this story will bring out stories that many of you may be aware of and carrying. Those stories that we are told cannot possibly be true. Those stories of women leaders now, and throughout time. Those stories of people living peacefully and in harmony with each other and with our Mother Earth. Those stories we now know are true.
*This year I am deep in studying the work of Max Dashu, a member of World Pulse since 2008. She is well aware of all of you and sends greetings. She is focussed right now on protecting her half century of work to make sure that it is safe, available and will not be lost. She has given me permission to share some of her images. Apart from her course that a number of us are currently taking, Max regularly shares information on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Suppressed-Histories-Archives-333661528320/, https://www.facebook.com/max.dashu and can be found at Max Dashu youtube, and through her site: https://www.suppressedhistories.net.