Why Women’s History Month?

It’s March!  And that means one thing: it’s Women’s History Month!

Every year, I inevitably get asked why we have a month devoted to women’s history. So consider this post my ultimate answer to that question: why Women’s History Month?

First, let me clarify why we get a month devoted to WOMEN’S history but not MEN’S history: because we already do so much to celebrate things that men have done and the role that men have played in shaping the history of our country and our world. Less than 8% of public statues honoring individuals in the United States are of women.  We have federal holidays devoted to honoring presidents (all of whom are men) and activists like MLK, pictures of men on all of our money (except for Sacagawea dollars).  History classes often focus on the roles that men have played, and while this is in part due to the fact that women were restricted to domestic activities for large portions of history, it’s also because many history books simply neglect or grossly over-simplify the roles that women play.

Second, though, it’s important to highlight the accomplishments of women and important milestones FOR women.  First ladies haven’t just been pretty figures on the arm of world leaders: many of them have been driving forces behind particular social initiatives.  There have been numerous female activists, from Susan B Anthony, to Margaret Sanger, to Gloria Steinem, to Sojourner Truth, who have left incredible marks on history-~-and that’s just in the United States.  We have had important female leaders, from First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to Britain’s Margaret Thatcher to Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi to Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to Germany’s Angela Merkel, all of whom have made important contributions to their countries and to the world.

On top of that, there have been important milestones in history that have impacted not just women but the ways in which our society functions.  While many people might know that the 19th amendment passed in 1920, and that Roe v Wade was decided in 1973, many may not have learned that birth control wasn’t approved for use in the United States until 1960, that Griswold v Connecticut was decided in 1965, or that use of/access to birth control outside of marriage wasn’t a legally protected right until  Eisenstadt v. Baird was decided in 1972.  Have you ever heard of Frances Perkins?  She was the first woman ever appointed to a presidential cabinet position in the United States, in 1933.

The reality is that where we are is a product of the path we as a society have walked and how far we have come together.  Ignoring gender issues or sexism’s role in history is to tell an untrue version of the story.  Women’s history month is about correcting those inaccuracies and filling in the blanks left by ignoring the contributions made by women.  Women’s history month is a chance to highlight the achievements of women who were ignored or forgotten simply because they were women.

Perhaps most importantly, it’s a chance to reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.  It’s a chance for young women today to realize what their foremothers have achieved and what they themselves might strive to accomplish.  Ask yourself this: when our daughters learn history, will we still need women’s history month, or will women’s contributions be recognized in our broader historical narrative?  When our daughters learn about the history of feminism, what will they discover our generation accomplished?  Will it be support of marriage equality?  Real victories for reproductive justice?  Equal pay across both gender and racial lines?  Gender parity in politics?  Only time will tell, but unless we can recognize what kinds of battles we have fought in the past, we’ll never understand the political and social landscape we are trying to navigate now-~-and if we can’t do that, we may very well get lost along the way.

Happy Women’s History Month.

For previous articles/posts on women’s history month or honoring women and their accomplishments, please see:

Our 2013 opening post on Women’s History Month

Honoring Beate Gordon

Profiles in History: Wangaari Mathaai and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Profiles in History: Nelly Bly/Elizabeth Jane Cochran

The Birth Control Movement, The Sexual Revolution, and How We Got Where We Are Now

I Am Woman, Watch Me Vote

International Women’s Day 2012: Empowering Girls, Changing Futures

Happy Birthday Birth Control

Keep an eye on this blog for posts all month long for posts honoring women through an intersectional lens and looking at important women’s issues both in the US and around the world.

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~ by Randi Saunders on March 2, 2014.

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