Every now and then somebody will say, “How come there need to be women’s studies classes? There are no men’s studies classes, are there? Hm? Are there?” The answer, of course: There are men’s studies classes. They’re called “history.”
I was reminded of this dispute when I read the book pictured above, The Celts: A History, by Peter Berresford Ellis. Mr. Ellis is a well-known scholar with multiple books on Celtic history to his name. He also writes historical fiction under another name. The book is a short overview and seemed at first glance to be just the thing to satisfy my curiosity.
My interest in the subject came about something like this:
· Much cultural wailing about the decline of marriage and the rise in out-of-wedlock births
· May 1 (Beltane) was coming up
· I remembered once reading that in the old pagan days, young women and young men performed the fertility rites by, er, frolicking, about the Beltane fires
· And the resulting Beltane babies were much cherished
· So I wondered what sort of family structure allowed the cherishing, rather than the reviling, of the babies, and how babies and everyone else were cared for
· Then I checked this book out of the library
Scanning the table of contents, I found the book included Chapter 6: Celtic Women. Well, you may be certain that if there’s a chapter devoted to women, the rest of the book is about men. It’s also a very dry recitation of facts that are hard to incorporate into one’s own knowledge store because they are laced with people and place names that are unfamiliar and unpronounceable.
Things I learned about: ancient Celtic rulers and warriors; Celtic farming implements; Celtic chariots and battle tactics; Celtic road building; Celtic architecture; Celtic religion; and several other topics. Things I did not learn about: How families were formed; who lived together; how children were cared for; how food was prepared; whether men were involved in caring for the children they sired; what happened to women and children when husbands and fathers died; what work women in general did while men were building and driving chariots into battle; and other things I wondered about. The closest I got to any of this information was the author’s assertion that Julius Caesar’s description of polygamous Celtic families did not accurately represent them.
So what was in the chapter on Celtic women? A dry recitation of facts about the handful of Celtic women who were known to have been rulers and warriors. Apparently, women are only interesting when they are doing typically male things.
To be fair, the matters that interest me do not leave artifacts to be dug up and studied, like the iron-age plows and the graves of the prominent. And maybe whatever I once read about Beltane babies was invented new-age mumbo jumbo. But maybe somebody knows about daily life in Europe in the six or twelve centuries B.C., and I just picked up the wrong book. I need the women’s studies version.