March is the month that honors women’s history. Of course,
Women have always been part of history. But for centuries, their participation in it was overlooked: Early history texts often excluded women altogether, aside from accounts of powerful women like queens. Historians—who were almost entirely men—often saw the past through the lens of the “great man” theory, which holds that history is largely shaped by male heroes and their struggles.
That changed in the 20th century, with the birth of women’s history as an academic discipline, a push to recognize the achievements of women—and a movement to ensure women had equal access to the academic institutions where their history might be taught. In the United States, the result was National Women’s History Month, an annual celebration born from the activism of historians intent on making sure women got their due. (National Geographic, March 1, 2022)
In fact, Women’s History Month began in the early 1980s as Women’s History Week when Congress authorized and requested President Carter to proclaim a “Women’s History Week.”’ Upon signing this into law, Carter said,
Ultimately, in 1987, Women’s History Week became Women’s History Month to “celebrate the contributions women have made to the United States and recognize the specific achievements women have made over the course of American history in a variety of fields.”
When I was in college, I learned feminism was about equality for women. It was about women being able to make choices about who they married, the level of education they could pursue, their ability to work outside of the home (or not), their ability to have children (or not), their ability to vote, etc. Some of these basic functions of society and economics we take for granted in 2022 were not automatically afforded to women even as recently as fifty years ago. For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions was only passed in 1978. Put another way, just because gains have been made regarding equality does not mean acknowledging the past and seeking new ways to continue progress are unwarranted. I also learned feminist—a term commonly lobbed as an insult—really means someone who believes women should have equality. This means feminists are not man-haters or people who think women should be superior to men; they are people who believe men and women are equal. Accordingly, both men and women can be feminists.
As I think about the role women have played in American history, I also think about the role women have played in my history. I don’t know how tall she was at her tallest, but by the time I was my full height—all of 5’1”—I was taller than my mom’s mom. I also weighed more than she did even though I was probably no more than 115 pounds; my grandma was a petite woman. She was also born and raised in London, England, so even after living in the United States for most of her life by the time I was born, her British accent was still alive and strong. If you met my grandma, you would have wanted to protect her because she was a wisp of thing who seemed so delicate to look at and listen to.
Yet my grandma wore the pants in the family and everyone knew it. If she wanted something, watch out! She was going to get it. Please do not think I am saying she was mean or unapproachable. She had the biggest heart despite her small frame. What I am saying is she was a woman who didn’t take no for an answer.
My mom is a strong woman too. She met my stepfather (who I call dad) at a male-dominated event. When he introduced himself, he asked, “Where’s your husband?”
My mom responded, “I’m happily divorced. Thank you.”
My mom is someone who is self-reliant and, as the mother of three daughters, wanted to raise them to be self-reliant too. As a mom of a daughter myself, I can certainly understand how difficult it can be to encourage my daughter to be both a strong woman and a respectful daughter. All of this to say, I was raised by strong women, I was encouraged to be one myself, and I am trying to teach my daughter to be one too.
As an English Major in college, so many of the courses I took for my major happened to be cross-listed as Women’s Studies courses. I realized in addition to my minor in Education, I could also get a minor in Women’s Studies if I completed a project. To me, this was a no-brainer. Without going into too much detail, my project was connected to marketing the Women’s Studies program to increase enrollment including designing and printing a brochure for recruitment. Ultimately, I presented my project to the department including my professors and peers. The next part of this story is my dad’s favorite because at my presentation I was asked about my thoughts regarding how to recruit more students to the department and I said something to the extent of, “We need more men. Women’s Studies must be inclusive of men if we want to have a future.”
When people ask me how I’m able to be a wife, mother, administrator, and author, my answer is always, “Because I have an amazing husband!” In part, because men at that time were expected to be the breadwinners, I would guess no one asked my grandfather how he was able to be as successful as he was. Yet, if they had, I hope he would have answered, “Because I have an amazing wife!”
My grandmother had a son and two daughters. My mom has three daughters and a son. I have two sons and one daughter. Who knows what children my children will have. What I do know is our history and laws will have an impact on their lives. I know they will ultimately have the right to vote and will be shaped by our societal and cultural norms. Finally, I know the way we interact at home will greatly shape how they see themselves, each other, and our interdependence with each other. I hope they know how important each of us is to the success of the other even if our past didn’t overtly honor all of us and even if there is still room for growth now.
With that, I wonder who are the women in your history who you celebrate?
P.S. The Catch of the Week this week is this video that summarizes the history of Women's History Month. It's quick and comprehensive. Enjoy!