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!