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Photo/Video: Amanda Foreman/Hollywood Insider YouTube Channel
“The narrative of ‘man the hunter’ presupposes that men provided the nutrition, invented the tools, and established social organization and communication through the hunt,” she says, “and that women were just sitting by the fire waiting for evolution to drag them out by the hair in the 1960s in order to participate. But that’s simply a story told by late-19th-century paleontologists, and is playing out in dioramas in natural history museums throughout the world. Other narratives are just as plausible, for example, that women invented language through communicating with their offspring, and that the ‘tool’ could just as easily have been cudgels for mashing and digging sticks for food,” -Amanda Foreman
The history of women in America and all over the globe has been quite a non-linear one, filled with triumph, loss, and sacrifice–but in this groundbreaking four-part docu-series, Amanda Foreman charts the integral role of women in various societies/cultures throughout the globe.
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Amanda Foreman, British historian, biographer, (and overall badass) provides to the world of women an anthropological antidote, diving deeply into the development of patriarchal systems and how they both oppressed and erased significant female role models throughout history. Rocking red lipstick and just the right amount of sass, Foreman highlights the evolution of women in four hours–from around 8,000 B.C. to modern-day.
While traveling across multiple continents, Foreman gathers research from museums, notorious archaeological sites, and interviews women from different cultural backgrounds–accumulating diverse data to seize truths slanted by our male-dominated historical narratives. Through her feminine lens, she unearths the facts: women deserve a seat at the throne of cultural contribution and innovation.
“There’s a huge difference between demanding something that has never happened before and demanding something back that was taken from us by civilization,” she says. “It’s an incredibly liberating point.”
Visiting the archaeological site of the prehistoric settlement of Anatolia (one of the first civilizations ever discovered), Foreman relays interesting evidence that this ancient group of humans (dating back before 8,000 B.C. in what is now Turkey) was believed by archaeologists to have been completely egalitarian both in gender and in class–bearing no distinct differences in either diet or burial rights.
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From what was gathered, there were no signs of larger homes either–the team of scientists infer that these hive-like structures had the potential to become bigger, but for some reason had a cap– an imposed limit that kept them more uniform. Quite the opposing pivot from the type of debris a future historian might discover from our modern scraps, with our grandiose capitalist gaps both in class and gender.
Other findings also stressed communal ties as opposed to blood ties, as DNA testing confirmed it was not nuclear families that were buried together under these homes, like we might expect to see or what we’re used to in our culture–but a variety of different DNA supports the theory of a more integrated social structure between these humans.
Some ancient discoveries believed if a skeleton with a necklace was found, it was definitely a female, likewise, any skeleton with weapons would be safely assumed to be the bones of a man. Not until later, when it became possible to determine gender through analyzing bones, did they realize this was not the case. Females were buried with a variety of weapons, indicating their role as warriors in their tribe. In one burial, a fourteen-year-old girl was buried with over forty bronze arrowheads.
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Young girls were found not with just adornments and jewels, but work tools and objects to make tattoos also. They were often attributed with the responsibility of the spiritual life, making women’s social roles higher than men’s. In the ancient Samaritan wars and the Second World War, it was women who performed the role of snipers, using long-range weapons like bows and sniper rifles, to defeat their enemies and keep their distance.
Amanda uses this to propel her argument and advocate for an updated timeline of history, one undiluted by male historians and slanted facts that have, for years, silenced women and their contributions to human evolution.
Women’s representation in historical art, including their display as figurines–or a lack of display at all–is a vital source of information that speaks to the fundamental ideas of how early societies organized themselves. Where Egyptian art embraced the masculine and feminine identities in their peoples (featuring statues of men and women together, sometimes wearing the same clothes–presenting them as equals) some did not, such as early Athenian societies, whose obsession with status and social purity reflected in their artwork.
This highlights a striking paradox, for Aphrodite and other notorious goddesses were nearly the only women among the world of ancient civilizations that were presented with such a central role. Yet, at the same time, they ruthlessly excluded women from public life, and “real” women presented in the art of that time were displayed very differently–submissive portrayals indicate they were demanded their obedience and chastity, honored mostly for their ability to produce sons and perpetuate the family line.
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Women: The Secondary Sex
“In nearly every civilization, women have been deemed the secondary sex, and it has been so ingrained, that it has been written into history as a biological truth.”- Amanda Foreman
The so-called inherent inferiorities possessed by women relative to their male counterparts are a tool used by patriarchal systems that were formed from fear of their power. In ancient codes, it is clear that when men recognized the importance of women, they made it so that women could not know this themselves–urging men to devalue them as property in order to monetize on their capacity for child-bearing.
How much they were needed was feared, so men had to ensure that this knowledge of their importance was severely underplayed. Women were eventually signed into law as property of their fathers, and sold off as virgins to their new husbands–the highest bidders. If a woman was raped, for example, this was not an offense to the woman, but seen as an offense to her father, who owned her as an extension of his own capital. Not only was she raped, but now she was a depreciating asset as a non-virgin female.
As various female leaders, artists, intellectuals, architects, scientists, and political voices have been erased throughout history, it is clear that women had a vital part in the development of the modern world, without the credit they deserve. They suffered greatly, but many women stood up against these mongrels and assisted in fashioning some of the liberties we know today as women. Amanda Foreman showcases several women across multiple cultures that made groundbreaking ripples for women everywhere.
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The world’s first novel ever written, was written by a woman, Murasaki Shikibu; Theodora, the Byzantine empress, was probably the most powerful woman in Byzantine history–from concubine to chief court advisor, rebuilding and reforming Constantinople with her intelligence, political acumen and fortitude. There are so many more to name, but women in power were often scrutinized–so although Foreman displays a rich history of several women in her four-hour series, we can be sure there were numerous others whose history, contributions, and voices were silenced.
That said, this is powerfully illuminating for women. It is inspiring, validating, and empowering. Freedom and equality for women has not been a simple uphill battle, but nuanced with progress followed by digression, fights that were won, and fights that were lost. One thing that is absolutely certain though, is that women are fundamentally equal to men, humans are fundamentally equal to one another, and our cooperation and inclusion of all people in this respect is the only thing that will allow us to successfully evolve and maintain harmony with the planet, other people, and ourselves.
‘The Ascent of Woman’ is streaming, all four parts, on YouTube for free.
Produced and directed by: Louise Hooper and Hugo Macgregor
Filmed by: Will Pugh
Other producers: Mickael Bec and Tom Williams
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Melissa McGrath is a writer for Hollywood Insider, offering rich and engaging content for reviews and features. Melissa feels at home with Hollywood Insider’s lively team who share an equal passion for the art of cinema. Having sought out compelling stories her whole life, she is eager to examine and share her observations with others interested in thought-provoking material. She believes in changing the world through meaningful dialogue and hopes to provide helpful insight with her work. She values open discussions concerning morality, culture, personal development, and holds a soft spot for cathartic humor. Through the art of storytelling, journalism, and cinema, Melissa seeks to help build a strong community of free-thinkers and cultivate a deeper understanding of the human experience.