Interview: Kaye Jones Talks To Sally Fox

(This post first appeared on this page of Sally's website).

90 percent of Wikipedia contributors are men. 86 percent of named statues in the UK are men. In the US, 79 percent of people who work in publishing – the gatekeepers of collective storytelling – are white. Something needs to change. Inequality, oppression and systemic bias against anyone who isn’t a straight, white man will not end until we change the stories we tell ourselves and our children.

For Kaye, this realisation hit one day in school, while studying Of Mice and Men. She raised her hand and asked: “Why doesn’t Curley’s wife have a name?” Her teacher smiled and said: “Why do you think?” After working as a history teacher, historian and author, Kaye founded The Herstorian to rewrite the way history is taught in the UK. She fights to amplify new voices, ones the world has largely ignored until now. She works with publishers and educational institutions, advising them on how to make their material more culturally responsive, accessible and relevant for children. In a recent article, Kaye questioned presumptions about the Bayeux Tapestry. Do the 93 penises stitched into the world’s most famous embroidery prove that it was created by men, as suggested by George Garnett, Professor of Medieval History at Oxford University? Or, as Kaye argues, do Saxon nuns deserve a bit more credit for their knowledge of the male anatomy? “The point is to challenge what we know and check those sources of knowledge. It’s not just about the history itself but about who gatekeeps access to it. It’s no longer acceptable for history to be the preserve of white, privileged men.” Men such as David Starkey, whom Kaye calls out for his racist, sexist views in this powerful piece.

Let’s be clear though, for Kaye, it’s not about silencing voices. “It’s not enough to call out bigotry. We should expose it for the ignorant prejudice that it truly is. We should use it to advance the debate, rather than stifling it, or, even worse, just condemning it.” A lot of Kaye’s work is about challenging unconscious bias. “I think about the messages we send to children through our interactions with them and how we can use these interactions for social change.” She’s driven by hope for the younger generation. “I focus my efforts on education because children are our future,” says Kaye. If you have little people in your life, “they’re your chance to set an example and help build a fairer future,” Kaye says. Understandably, Kaye’s work takes over her life. Like most of us, she’s feeling this more than ever since the pandemic stripped us of anything else to do. Her focus right now is on white privilege. She hopes to be an ally to the Global Majority and make the most of her work with educational publishers to dismantle systems of racial oppression. Her biggest obstacle? “My own mind,” Kaye says, her ambition and drive doing daily battle with low self-confidence and imposter syndrome. “I would second-guess myself and let my inner critic take the lead.” Kaye overcomes her imposter syndrome by staying focused on her vision. “The desire to achieve your goal has to outweigh the anxiety you feel. Keep your eyes on the prize.” “The moment I took control of my inner critic, my life transformed overnight. I can think strategically and put my plans into place now that I am not battling self-doubt all the time.” Kaye also credits her success to a supportive community. Over the years, Kaye has learnt that she’s far more resilient than she thought. “When life throws you lemons, get the gin out.” As well as a gin, Kaye takes rare opportunities to unwind with a period drama, an early morning coffee or daily meditation with her eight-year-old daughter. “I started The Herstorian as a one-woman enterprise in late October. Recently, I hired the eighth member of my team. Being able to build a tribe of like-minded people that are genuinely committed to changing the curriculum is what gets me out of bed every morning.” 2021 is set to be a fantastic year for Kaye and her team. “We have lots coming up with publishers here and in the US, working with them to review their material and get the changes put into print.” Kaye’s next book, Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Workplace, is due out soon. “Forget everything you think you know about our industrial ancestors,” she says. “This is history with EVERYONE written back into the narrative. I can’t wait to see what people think of it.” Find out more about The Herstorian by visiting the website, or follow Kaye on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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