One of the effects of the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture and Consultation is that we come together to honor women’s accomplishments and to remember women’s history. This is something that needs to be done more and more often, again and again, and the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture series is one concrete and, we hope, visible vehicle for doing it.
Women’s history has historically been forgettable rather than memorable, for a number of overlapping reasons. In the sociologically famous gender division of labor, women have historically been assigned the less public and less prestigious to do list. Women’s association with reproduction – pregnancy, childbirth, childcare and nurture – has meant that women have been embedded in a sphere of life that is, as background, both ubiquitous and unremarkable, beneath notice, AND that is thought of as timeless, changeless, not the subject of history. We think that a bit less since the rise of the discipline and methodology of social history – the painstaking reconstruction of the significant changes that have happened in precisely this large sphere of human life over time. That rise itself is a recent phenomenon. It was fueled, in part, by the rise of feminist scholarship in departments of history in major European and North American universities, which was fueled in turn by women’s determination to reclaim this area of women’s experience from official oblivion.
Where women’s achievements were of the more traditionally remarkable kind – in public spheres, in recognized fields, in visible and valued forms – other mechanisms of forgetfulness have come into play. When people have had to make decisions about whether to save some papers or throw them out, whether to include a chapter on someone’s life or leave it out for reasons of limited space, whether to spend time and research effort on a biography or choose another subject, women have been less likely to make the cut than men. When it has been a matter of assessing importance or influence or quality, the experts [men] applying trained [by men] judgments [from men’s perspective, according to men’s standards] have tended to identify men as most worthy of notice, respect, study, and memory. Women have had to be larger-than-life to show up on the historical radar screen. (Queen Elizabeth I comes to mind.)
This is assuming these figures, achievements, etc. ever come to anyone’s notice in the first place. Because there are mechanisms – among them women’s cultivated reticence to self-promote, and gender bias in thinking of things as worth mentioning in the first place – that already favor noticing the achievements of men more often and with more enthusiasm than noticing the achievements of women.
Then, in a cultural world where whiteness has held hegemonic normative sway for centuries, all these forces doubly affect the remarking, remembering, and celebrating of the achievements of women of color.
All of which is to remind ourselves that making the Katie Geneva Cannon Lecture and Consultation happen is also making change happen. We are working against the tide of dismissing, neglecting, and forgetting the work and achievements of women. We are intentionally noticing, valuing, and celebrating the work of a woman scholar of racial-ethnic minority heritage, and purposely paying attention to her critique of the dominant oppressive structures and ideologies of the day. We are doing this because noticing, valuing and celebrating what these women are doing now is exactly what we need to do when we realize that not having noticed, not having valued, and not having celebrated what our foremothers did was wrong.
So on Sunday night, when we gather in Hundley Hall at 7:30 p.m. to hear Dr. Stacey Floyd-Thomas’s lecture, we will be doing a little more than hearing a respected woman scholar, a pioneer in Black Church Studies, and a prophetic academic voice. We will be doing something we can do, this weekend, to change the world.