Last night I stayed up way too late watching the National History Bee, televised for the first time this year. While as a history major I was obviously really excited by the concept, the execution was not so great. This post isn’t about the execution, however, because there was something worse happening on screen than Al Roker’s forced humor (bordering on meanness), or the color commentary, or the fact that Dallas, M.A.S.H., and I Love Lucy were all answers.
Out of 16 finalists, zero were girls.
Honestly I don’t know who to be upset with here. The Bee’s sponsor Houghton Mifflin Harcourt probably wasn’t like “omg guys let’s keep out ALL the girls they have cooties,” and if it was the boys who got the questions right, it’s not like they were going to be like “nope, sorry dude, we have a quota we’re taking this girl instead.” But somewhere in the path to the History Bee finals, someone failed. Girls weren’t encouraged to apply, girls weren’t supported in their classes. I don’t know. But I refuse to believe that there wasn’t one middle-school girl in the entire country smart and educated enough to be among our nation’s top 16 history geeks. Why wasn’t she there?
And maybe this lack of girl contestants made me even more aware of the lack of women’s history questions. I stopped counting at 6, but there were definitely no more than 10 in the almost two hours I watched, and about half of the female figures only got “partial credit,” as part of a group of men (Vivian Vance and Desi Arnaz, for example). That is something I can be upset at the Bee for, and I am. Surely Oprah, Mother Theresa, Betsy Ross, and Anne Frank are not the ONLY women who have contributed to history. I remember five musical questions, all male-oriented. What about Janis Joplin? Josephine Baker? Loretta Lynn? Should we count the Verdi question as partial credit because the answer wasAida?
At least they mentioned women’s suffrage. I guess.
Frankly: I’m disappointed in you, National History Bee.
I would be interested in your theories about the lack of female contestants or questions, because I really don’t have any. Hit up the comments.