The stories we’ve been collecting recently have been wonderful in their richness and incredible in their detail. We’ve been able to speak to seven women about the stories of Birmingham’s canals from the 1960s to 1980s, and we’ve put together a short podcast series – called I Dig Canals Birmingham – to help share some of their memories.
Back when we were looking for women to interview, we did a few media interviews to advertise our latest project, and on one of them, there lingers a comment that has stayed with us:
“Not sure why female anecdotes would be any different from the men’s but hey ho.”
It’s not the first time that we have been questioned about why we focus on women’s stories only. “Isn’t it exclusionary?’ we’re often asked, “Men have good stories too.” And they’re right, men do. We know plenty whose stories are inspiring and instrumental and we’re not trying to erase those stories. Not at all.
Here are five thoughts for our anonymous commenter:
1. Most historical accounts are from men. Collecting women’s stories is done not to exclude men, but to include women in a space already occupied by men
2. Women’s roles were often different to men’s, so we can build a bigger picture of a historical event or period by including their stories
3. Collecting stories from women sometimes tells us that men and women had very similar roles and this helps challenge our preconceptions about gender divisions in the past
4. In a man-woman couple dynamic, the woman will often take a step back and let her husband speak. By asking for a female-only interview, we can be sure of including her voice
5. We don’t just collect women’s stories, but share them too. That means we can be part of a movement to restore women’s voices to their rightful place in history
And so female anecdotes might be different to men’s, or they might not. But we won’t know unless we stand back and invite them to speak.
Our latest project has been funded by the John Feeney Charitable Trust, and follows a successful project funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund – the original I Dig Canals – which focused on stories of women in the Black Country.