Monday, 18 August 2014

We Have Always Reclaimed Our Stories

I'm glad Kameron Hurley won two Hugo Awards last night: Best Fan Writer and Best Related Work for her essay We Have Always Fought! Oh, and Dribble of Ink won Best Fanzine, most likely in part for publishing it. It was obviously an essay which corresponded to what lots of people needed to read and, in some cases, argue with.

What I felt when I first read it was sad, especially when I got to this bit:
When I sat down with one of my senior professors in Durban, South Africa to talk about my Master’s thesis, he asked me why I wanted to write about women resistance fighters.
“Because women made up twenty percent of the ANC’s militant wing!” I gushed. “Twenty percent! When I found that out I couldn’t believe it. And you know – women have never been part of fighting forces –”
He interrupted me. “Women have always fought,” he said.
“What?” I said.
“Women have always fought,” he said. “Shaka Zulu had an all-female force of fighters. Women have been part of every resistance movement. Women dressed as men and went to war, went to sea, and participated actively in combat for as long as there have been people.”

Twenty years ago, when I was about the age Kameron Hurley is now, I learned what she learned in that passage. Feminist historians showed me the recovered history of female warriors, explaining how it had come as a personal epiphany to them some twenty years earlier, when they recovered the stories of military women which had already been recovered twenty years before that. Yes, there is a loop here...

As I got older and read more, I realized it's a long loop, with warrior women stories being recovered, generation after generation, by adults who had grown up with rather less exciting and empowering images of women. The recovered stories never quite break the mainstream, the next generation of children grows up without them until they reach adulthood and recover them in their turn... sometimes. Kameron Hurley's essay felt like this generation's re-iteration of that ongoing process, never quite breaking through into deeper change. Only maybe this time it will...

Related posts:

Girl geniuses I grew up with 
Women warriors I grew up with 
One Who Walks with the Stars, a Lakota woman warrior
Review of Lucy, the film about a woman who unlocks the full potential of her brain

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