Let Women’s History Month Begin!

A collage of powerful sheroes of today and yesterday, I made this collage to celebrate WHM 2010. Look for this year's version soon!

 

If you’ve ever read this blog or been subjected to me inserting “this day in women” facts into dinner conversation, you can imagine I’m very excited for today, the first day of women’s history month. Whether they truly want to or not, the rest of the parts of the internets I visit are going to be as obsessed with the women of the past as I am for a whole 31 days!

Gerda Lerner, one of the first American women’s historians, said in 1986, “When I started working on women’s history about thirty years ago, the field did not exist. People didn’t think that women had a history worth knowing.” Women’s History Month as it’s celebrated now wasn’t established until 1987, expanded to the whole month six years after Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored a a joint Congressional resolution proclaiming a national Women’s History Week.  Each year the President issues a proclamation officially declaring the month. In his statement yesterday, President Obama said, “We must carry forward the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements, and no remaining ceilings to shatter.”

Well, yes! My excitement about this month is not as unbridled as it might seem., however. A month of Women’s History implies that the other 11 months belong to men’s history or, as it’s known, history. No one is a bigger advocate of celebrating women’s history than me and I’m too young to be completely cynical but it’s hard not to look at the state of the nation for women and feel like these designations are just a pat on the head from the group of cigar smoking patriarchs who say with that pat, “Now dearie, we gave you a whole month to talk about you and your friends, what more could you want now?” We’ll take the month, thanks, and we’ll use it to educate and inspire but if you think it will hold off our revolt you’ve got another thing coming – we’ll use this month to plan that, too.

Women’s History Month is also yet another occasion in which women of color are asked to bifurcate their identities. WHM directly follows Black History Month and precedes Asian American History Month in May.  Are Black women supposed to shed their gender during February and their race in March? Those of us who make our income speaking know that demand soars during  “our month” – I can only imagine how many qualified women of color speakers lose gigs because bookers can only see them as filling one part of a quota. As we celebrate WHM, it’s important to point out as often as possible that each and every part of a person’s identity – gender, race, sexuality, cis or trans status, ability, class, nationality, religion – make them who they are and no one should be asked to do the impossible of shaving off one part of themselves to fit into a month-shaped or any shaped box.

Problematic as it is, I’m excited about Women’s History Month because we’ve got the opportunity to make it rich and diverse and meaningful. I’ll take any platform I’m given to change how young girls and boys see the notable people of the past so they can better imagine and fashion themselves into that of the future. (See, still naïve and idealistic!) I’m going to try to be active on the blog this month, with features on both women of history and women making history, round-ups of great WHM events happening on the web and in cities across the country, and fun quizzes, quotes, and pictures. I’ll also be using my Facebook and Twitter feeds as women’s history tributes and continuing to chronicle each day in women’s history via the Radical Women’s History Project. If you’ve got an event, quote, any fun women’s history thing I should know about, please let me know!

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Let Women’s History Month Begin!

  1. Laurens R. Hunt

    Women’s History Month is very special, but I could hardly agree more that the other 11 months are left out. I think there are several things we must look at here, certainly the identity for one. I am a feminist with a disability, Cerebral Palsy, and I discuss this aspect regularly. There are some other points I wanted to talk about as well.

    Each one of the months needs to be used for progressive policy changes in addition to Women’s History Month like never before. This is true of all the following: Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, Black History Month, Filipino American History Month, Haitian Heritage Month, Irish-American Heritage Month, LGBT History Month, South Asian Heritage Month, National Disability Employment Awareness Month, and National Hispanic Heritage Month.

    There is backlash on an unprecedented scale against unions and worker rights. Almost of these workers fit one of these celebrated groups and multiple ones in many cases. Obviously I need not say anything about Planned Parenthood but also ACORN before it. Anything liberal is bad – baby killers, welfare state, runaway spending, environmental zealots, support of murderers (due to opposing the death penalty), gun haters, and many more. Conservative equals pro-life, god fearing, and always obedient. We know that all of the above is false, but we have much to do to get policies back on our side.

    The support for reproductive freedom is very important, and now so much else must follow. This includes opposing oil drilling, supporting tough gun restrictions, more (not fewer) government and non-profit sector jobs, reinstatement a/or strengthening of OSHA and ergonomics laws, and lastly but least opposing the death penalty. Capital punishment obviously will never bring a murder victim back to life. Might I add one more? We must also oppose a balanced budget amendment to the US Constitution.

    All of these groups must stand in solidarity in each of these policy areas. The conservatives are frequent offenders, but the democrats are coming up short as well. There are plenty of democrats willing to roll back abortion rights during these strained economic times. Other want the oil drilling which kills off plant and wildlife also lending to many forms of cancers and other illnesses, not to mention the many miscarried or deformed babies. This is something the right to life activists will never talk about. Others yet cave in that OSHA and ergonomics laws are too strict and that they are bad for big business. Support for the death penalty is widespread when in fact it destroys families and entire communities. More comprehensive background checks on guns can at least lessen a lot of the crime. The last one I mentioned, a balanced budget amendment, is pivotal.

    All this will accomplish is it will redistribute the debt, certainly not eliminate it. The loss of government jobs at all levels will be beyond any cuts even being talked about, and many non-profit organizations will dissolve as well. This will place accelerated cost pressures on all ranges of services including health care, homeless prevention, emergency shelter, food kitchens, blood services, general assistance including TANF, Medicaid, food stamps, energy assistance, and cash subsidies, and alcoholic and drug treatment plus so much more. Property taxes along with sales and other regressive taxes will only become much more problematic. The whole idea is to purportedly bring the outflow of expenditures in line with tax revenues and cash inflows, which will never be realized with a balanced budget amendment. As you can see I have covered quite a bit and regretfully not nearly all of it.

    We have so much in common. We just have to keep convincing the American people that the truth is on our side. The Tea Party leaders will come to learn that they are not nearly in control as much as they think they are.

  2. I completely agree with you that Women’s History Month is our patriarchal society’s attempt to quell women from asking for more rights. I had never thought about that before and it makes me realize that for how far we have come, we still have far to go!

  3. Maitiu

    This Women’s History Month fits well with the other Women’s History Months: January, February, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December.

    Thankfully, we don’t have a Men’s History Month, or we’d have harder time ignoring the higher incarceration rate for me (greater than the racial differences in incarceration), higher rate of homelessness, lower life span, control of less wealth, much, much higher rate of workplace fatalities, poorer working conditions, lack of reproductive rights, lack of protection under the law, legalized genital mutilation… and so on.

  4. Important point about the bifurcation of identity. June Jordan talks about this in an essay she wrote about going to a Black History Month event one day, and an LGBT event the next day. That essay has always stuck with me.

  5. Here’s another great Gerda Lerner quote:
    “Women’s history is the primary tool for women’s liberation.”
    Perhaps “a primary tool” would have been more precise, but, hey, Gerda Lerner was an historian with a mission and she had a point. History inspires, infuriates, enlightens in magical, powerful ways. Knowing it gives us a confidence and passion we might not have otherwise. Not knowing it leaves us in a dark prison. Three cheers for the light Shelby sheds every day!

  6. To quote my amazing self:

    “Men have written history for centuries. It’s time for herstory.”

    Oh, and while I’m here and at it:

    “You don’t have to be famous to have wisdom worth sharing.”

    The older and less famous I become, the more experienced and wiser I am.”

    Happy Herstory Month :)

  7. P.S.:

    “I will go down in herstory as a woman who made a difference, and had a positive impact on the world.” Susan Macaulay, Change Agent
    :) God, I’m good…. :P & LOL

  8. As of late I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the history of contraception and abortion. It’s amazing how much of that aspect of women’s history is still unknown.

  9. WoW! I’m going to get so much enjoyment from reading your blog and other writings!

    But I did want to share something that I wasn’t even aware of until last year. March 8th is International Woman’s Day [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women%27s_Day]. It is actually a major holiday in several countries, even bigger than the American Mother’s Day.

    [Of course, we Americans often disdain holidays that we didn't create, so I went a good 27 years of my life never even knowing this holiday existed! Nothing like growing up in a xenophobic region (aka the Bible Belt) to make one unprepared for the real world, huh? Anyways, I wanted to make sure YOU knew this holiday existed!!]

    Can’t wait to read more of what you’ve been scribbling about for a while! And feel free to stop by my insignificant and incredibly pathetic attempt at a blog.

    Yours in the Spirit of Service,
    -MK (Katrina Lynam-Henderson)

  10. Tyler

    After seeing Shelby Knox, or should I say Ms. Informed (HA!), on Fox News after the superbowl, I think she is an idiot. I wish I could tackle your grandma and your mother. Because they are women?… maybe. Get a life.

  11. Only posting to comment Shelby Knox is a dirty skank

    I wonder how much hate mail this bitch receives.

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