The History Girls
The Daily Mail’s latest foray into academia, “The History Girls: meet the women building a bright future from the past”, reconfigures history away from an idea of its gender perspective, into another idea of its… well, gendered perspective. The DM version of feminism can be basically summed up as follows: it is not that society is constructed along the lines of an economy which favours men, socially discriminates women at every stage, and generally runs along the lines of hard work equals moral expectancy; it is that women have not been active enough in seizing their piece of the economic pie. Feminism equals the individual woman knowing what she wants and taking it.
Anyway, enough of that: it is not hard to see that I think this is bull shit. But, let us consider the photographs, because it is here where we can see the DM’s most pernicious construction for our work: ambition equals sexual availability. If history itself is a fuzzy and messy place, then the place that these figures fit into it is certainly not. History, like the slightly tilted heads of those photographed (by Jay Rubin) in this group portrait (and in the individual portraits thereafter), is as clear as the gallery wall behind it; and as possible to reach as the bed which is in front of it. Indeed, there is a dense dialogue taking place on the role of historical writing to capture a certain past; and the appropriate place for its demonstration as a portrait by a particular author. While the women here are positioned in poses long associated with painted portraits which celebrated – among other things – conquest and the illicit, the choice of specialisation of each involved is comfortably fitted within a DM version of national propriety. The only work that even comes close to departing from Ye Olde England, the royals and the ‘powerful woman’, are the histories of medicine and sexuality in Halli Rubenhold’s work; and even those are reformulated as ‘mysteries’ solved by a not-so-gender-bending intrepid investigator.
The chromatic scale of “freshness” splayed across the gallery wall in powerful primary colours, and the professional suits, are as much about the exchange value of knowledge, power and sex, as it is about the ‘liberation’ of history for and by women. These ‘girls’ are the DMs haute couture version of the Pussycat Dolls. And the latter have better choreography.