History vs Women: A Talk With the Authors of the Feminist Testimony

“To all the women whose stories were never told, whose songs were never sung, and whose works were never celebrated. May the knowledge of your lives stir up ambitious dreams in new generations of women who will never be forgotten.”

~Excerpt from History vs Women

Last week I wrote a review of History vs Women, an electrifying compilation of undiscovered and lesser known feats achieved by women across the globe. In order to connect readers with their new book, Anita Sarkeesian and Dr. Ebony Adams embarked on a tour across the United States. The second night of the tour brought them to Brookline Booksmith in Boston, MA, where I was lucky enough to score an interview detailing their writing process and personal sentiments towards the women they worked tirelessly to bring to life.

To begin, who are Anita Sarkeesian and Dr. Ebony Adams?

Anita Sarkeesian was born in Canada, but later relocated to California, and is the founder of Feminist Frequency, a nonprofit organization dedicated to discussing the ways women are represented in pop culture, particularly video games. When asked what inspired her to found Feminist Frequency, Anita discussed that the feminist theory she studied in grad school was alienating from the everyday experience and largely inaccessible. With video blogging on the rise in 2009, she began filming videos about topics in pop culture she was passionate about, and issues she had a burning desire to address “through the lens of feminism.” Feminist Frequency would soon follow.

Dr. Ebony Adams is an author and activist whose studies focused on the lives of black women in the diaspora. I was curious to learn how her studies brought her to Feminist Frequency, where she currently works. She was quick to reveal that she’d always been a rather geeky kid with a deep love for Star Trek and Doctor Who. While she originally worked in academia, the atmosphere of this work setting wasn’t fitting for her personality or passions. She began working in the nonprofit sector and felt “creatively energized,” as well as proud of the work she accomplished. She soon found Feminist Frequency, loved its “badass media criticism,” and has been part of the team since.

History vs Women, with its stunning graphics and captivating content, is a book that will put a satisfied smile on the face of every reader. When I sat down with Anita and Ebony, I naturally wanted to know what inspired the two of them to produce this work. I learned that History vs Women was born out of a previous project — a video series showcasing the stories of five equally dynamic women titled “Ordinary Women Daring to Defy History.” Publication interest, a wish to incorporate a greater number of untold stories, and the overall desire to facilitate a more inclusive history of women’s accomplishments ultimately spurred the creation of History vs Women.

We, as readers, are fortunate enough to curl up on the couch with the finished project, and spend as many hours as we wish absorbing the beautiful illustrations and fascinating histories. It’s easy to forget the energy and effort invested into the production of such a valuable book. And this process was nothing short of intense. Anita revealed that the entire book was researched, written, and published within roughly an eighth month period. They collaborated with historians, film experts, and even sports scholars to help guide their research and provide their readers with authentic and accurate information. “It’s amazing what you can get from a local library,” Anita declared. “Experts in the art of research,” aka local librarians, called in books from across the country to help facilitate the spread of these stories. So if you think libraries are outdated, think again. They played a vital role in the creation of History vs Women.

Despite the aggressive nature of the production process, the final outcome was evidently worth it.

“Women have always been amazing, incredible, villainous, complicated beings through the entirety of history. And just because we don’t know their stories doesn’t mean they didn’t exist.”  

Anita’s above statement encompasses the importance of the mission she and Ebony took on with the creation of this book. They want to unearth stories that show the complexity of women throughout history and then circulate their stories to audiences of all ages and genders. The book is meant to be both fun, educational, and accessible for a wide range of readers.

It is meant to show girls that women can embark on the same journeys and achieve the same feats as men. For Ebony, who grew up reading (and enjoying) fun stories about young men traversing the world on thrilling adventures, there were a distinct lack of books that depicted women in the same roles. This memory surfaced when she started researching and writing History vs Women, and influenced the manner in which they constructed the book. They wanted to show their audience that women are scholars and artists, but they “also want girls to have access to stories about villains and amazons,” Ebony revealed.

Khutulun

With all the discussion of research and bringing these women to life, I couldn’t resist asking each author the obvious question… who is your favorite? Anita and Ebony shared a laugh saying their response always seems to be changing, but nevertheless, both had a ready answer.

Anita chose Khutulun, a thirteenth century Mongolian warrior princess who stockpiled a vast collection of horses from various suitors. How did she manage to pull this off? Khutulun was a champion wrestler, unrivaled in skill, and claimed she would only marry the man who could defeat her in a match. Khutulun waged marriage, the suitor waged horses. And every single time, the suitor walked away empty handed. Anita admires the ferocity and steadfast nature of Khutulun, who never threw a match despite her parent’s wishes and never sacrificed her values or her skills for the sake of pleasing a man.

Ebony selected Moll Cutpurse, noting that this is the first time a woman from the villain section ascended into the position of favorite. A sixteenth century thief, vagabond, and free spirit, Moll Cutpurse defied all conventional roles imposed on women of her time. Ebony marvels that there’s “something so irresistibly and irredeemably unrepentant” in the way she lived her life. Moll “thumbed her nose at convention.” She “refused to engage in legitimate labor.” Above all, she “lived her life with such fun.”

Moll Cutpurse

After the interview, I hurried to snag a seat at Brookline Booksmith for the panel on History vs Women that would soon begin. Moderated by Jaclyn Friedman, the event was a light-hearted and captivating hour and a half of fun questions and intriguing discussion. The panelists and audience shared a laugh deciding which section of the book would fit into which Harry Potter house and were delighted to learn some of Anita and Ebony’s personal feminist pet peeves.

Anita and Ebony also elaborated on the importance of intersectionality and geographic and ethnic variance in their book. They wanted to incorporate stories of women who are fierce into the lives of kids. The title History vs Women is thus meant to be confrontational and bold. It was remarkable to witness the ease and excitement the authors displayed when discussing their book. Ebony remarked in the interview, “It’s amazing to see how many people are interested in the book and want to talk about it and are energized by what they’re finding out!” The audience clearly reciprocated the authors’ passion for the topic at hand as laughs and eager questions flooded the room.

It is uncertain whether there is a sequel on the way. Regardless, Anita and Ebony have graced us with an enjoyable and riveting read that audiences should be clambering to acquire. As the book says…

“Rebels, Rulers, Scientists, Artists, Warriors and Villains — Women are, and have always been, all these things and more.”

So, don’t hesitate another moment! Grace your mind and your bookshelf with a copy of this beautiful book. The women featured in History vs Women were pioneers in history, and we cannot let them be forgotten.

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