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Diane Bell  

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Women explorers  

NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
5 Feb 1999

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1:16 My name is Diane bell. I am a prof of anthro and director of the women's studies program at GWU¿¿..1:37 I have a PhD in anthropology from the Australian Natl University¿.

DS - description of Geo Century series¿..why so few famous women explorers during most of this century.

2:50 DB - well it is interesting that you emphasize the word famous. What makes fame - it is what we know from the written record very often. We know from anyone who does any research on women knows that it very often very hard to reclaim women form the written record. Very often they are just not put down as important - they might be present when something happens, and they may in fact be doing something very interesting, but their name is not necessarily recorded. Some of the early explorers certainly could not have gone where they went had they not been women with them. But those women are not there. So we sometimes have to look to other ways - other sources to reclaim women from history. Women keep journals, they keep diaries, they write letters, but they are not the things we think of as the stuff of political action or the stuff of real history, and it is only really with feminist historians with an interest in women in history going back and saying how do we reclaim women from the written record and what does it mean that women don't seem to be in the record - written record. Is it that they weren't there or they weren't recorded as being there. 3:50

DS - an ex would be Sakajawia

3:53 DB - Sakajawia with Lewis and Clark. Yes, they could have never made it without her. But it is only recently that she has been valorized a member of that team. 4:03

DS - and you would say that is bc who got to write the history?

4:07 DB - it is partly who gets to write the history. It is also partly what we consider to be exploration. What we consider to be heroic. What we take to be markers. Arriving at the north pole, the south pole, they are things we understand as enormously momentous occasions - where in fact a woman might be doing something which is very important, but we do not give it that same kind of credit. It is not valorized in our notion of what is an event - an historic event. I mean in my own field, in anthropology, I think of those women who were fanning out across the globe and one of them, Frederica del Laguna, is still alive - born in 1906. Went out in to the field very early and did a trip to Greenland to do research there. Margaret Mead going to Samoa as a young woman in her early 20s. a host of women anthropologists who were working down in the southwest. 5:03 doing very heroic things as women. Working against the expectations of women, doing pioneering work in the field of anthropology, and it is only now that we are starting to reclaim them and understand what extraordinary lives they were living - what an extraordinary contribution they made to the discipline also. 5:22

DS - ¿hard for women to get the money

5:35 DB - oh, certainly. When you look at the women we know about there is very often a class issue there. These are women who had independent wealth or could call on money in order to get where they are going. All were in a relationship with a man that facilitated that. Though, many of those women who traveled abroad where traveling individually and that's what makes them extraordinary women - I am thinking of OUT OF AFRICA. 6:04

DS - amelia earhart said¿women weren't expected to do what men did¿..did expectations have anything to do with it?

6:27 DB - yes, but expectations changed. I don't think you could actually say that there is development out of ignorance into enlightenment when it comes to women and education and what was said to be appropriate for women's behavior. It rockets backwards and forwards btwn being in the public domain and women retreating or being pushed back into the domestic. And I am thinking particularly of WW II. During WWII women were employed in doing things for the war effort and doing things for the national - they were seen as nation builders in terms of doing work for the war effort. And then after that the troops come home, and women are encouraged - manipulated even - back into the home 7:15 and the notion of the family with the mother staying at home which is celebrated in TV and women's magazines, and comes to be the notion of the family - and people nostalgically look back to - but that was something that was constructed. 7:30 so I think you could argue that there has been times - like with the sufregettes - remembering that women in the US didn't get the vote until 1920 - those women who were agitating for the vote - they were very powerful political persons. So I don't think you could just say that women have progressively become more and more public figures. I think we move backwards and forwards. But in terms of access to education, yes of course. 7:57
¿and in terms of schools and colleges - a(talks about Freddie del Laguana - established anthro dept at Brynn Mar).

DS - periods in the century during which women where climate was more welcoming to women

9:44 DB - well women were agitating for something and they were being heard in public. It doesn't mean they were crafting a life the way women have since the 1970s and the womens movt and the establishment of women in politics and careers and in institues of higher learning the way we can site it now. What is interesting about some of those earlier women is the way they played off notions of the home and the proper role of women sometimes quite subversively. Sometimes using that as their moral platform out of which to speak 10:23. I am just very uncomfortable with this notion of there being a unilineal development. Being able to speak in a moral voice on issues of temperance, earlier on emancipation¿¿..(talking about women's voice at home) 10:50

DS- we now see women in just about every field of endeavor ¿..

11:08 DB - but still not in great numbers and we still know them as exceptions

11:11 DS - has some kind of corner been turned?

11:15 DB - I think we are turning it - and I think we are in a period of backlash against women¿.

DS- - women in space programs¿what do you see as the future for women in the space program in this field of exploration and discovery

12:13 - DB - ¿I wonder about women in the military¿.women transforming military¿.woman as a solider - a diff kind of explorer¿.will we get to see different things as being frontiers to be explored. Things we might not have even thought of thresholds that need to be crossed that women might define for us. 13:09

DS - do you have anything in mind?

DB - where funds go in areas of technology¿.15:49 I think if you asked anybody in this country to name woman anthropologist I think she is somebody who shaped they way we think about a number of issues - child rearing, issues of race, issues of peace. These are all issues in which she spoke¿¿¿

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