Do Women's Gains Make Women's History Month Ho-Hum?
I'm finding Women's History Month this year greeted with yawns. That
could mean women and women's contributions are becoming everywhere
recognized as integral to political and social history. If so, it's
not yet a publicly acknowledged fact.
No surprise there.
History has been defined through male lenses and written by male hands. Almost nobody, male or female, ever
thought of Women’s History Anything before the 1970's. Officially, it’s
been in existence since 1978 and started on the left coast (as Women’s
History Week) in Sonoma County CA. Now it sounds just nice and
ordinary. You can even buy Women’s History Month greeting cards.
So it's hard for many to fathom that the inception of Women's
History Month marked a revolutionary shift in thinking about whose
actions are worth recording. An interesting overview is here, and Louise Bernikow’s “Our Story” articles
tell me interesting snippets I don’t find elsewhere; your children
probably won't find them in their textbooks either because few history
courses even today have caught up with the stunning progress women have
made into leadershp and influential roles during the past decade.
The origins of International Women’s Day,
which was March 8, predate Women’s History Month by seven decades but
have now been incorporated into the month’s events. It began in the
progressive political movement to demand better working conditions for
women at the turn of the 20th Century, a time of rapid
industrialization and rapid social change.
My favorite t-shirt is one that reads “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
once history is made, it just seems so normal. Now the United States
has had a female Speaker of the House of Representatives and a woman
candidate for President nearly won the Democratic party's nomination
last year. Indeed, when asked my grandson, age 11 at the time, if he
would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that
drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask
such a dumb question.
There's a whole raft of what I call the feminist echo going on right
now--as all of us aging second wave feminists are having a combination
of post menopausal zest and a realization that it's time to take
another swing at getting some things done before it's too late for us
to do anything. That’s why there are renewed ratification efforts in
states that failed to pass the Equal Rights Amendment during the
1970’s, and a whole slew of books, conferences, and oral histories
under development, including a conference to reprise the historic
National Women’s Conference in Houston of 30 years ago. Now with Barack
Obama as president, the U.S.might even enter the 21st century by
ratifying the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Over 90% of the nations on earth have ratified CEDAW; we stand in bad
company with countries like the Sudan that have not yet signed on. And
during the last two weeks, over at the United Nations, plans were being
laid for a Fifth World Conference on women, or Beijing + 15. Not that
you would know it from the lack of media coverage on the topic.
Speaking of media, it should be noted that Eleanor Roosevelt
was more or less the first blogger. She wrote “My Day”, a 500-word
syndicated column six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962 in
order to influence policy through a medium accessible to a woman.
“Without equality,” she said, “there can be no
democracy.” And although she was more noted for her work to advance
racial equality, she included women in her concerns: "The battle for
the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us
should countenance anything which undermines it."
To that point, the inimitable gravel-voiced former congresswoman and serial starter of organizations to advance women, Bella Abzug,
once said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get
appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get
as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”
In the same way, we'll
really know we have social and political gender parity when women's
visibility in the telling of history, as well as the making of it, will
be, well, just normal.