March is National Women’s History Month, a fact I note every year, with varying degrees of enthusiasm. I am conflicted. And this particular bit of oppositional thinking cannot be attributed to my nutty genetic code. … Well maybe the predisposition for it can. Regardless, I’ve an active distaste for the need of such a month.
Yet, I persist in embracing the 31-day celebration, because honored recognition of women’s contributions to the world is relatively absent from historical texts and popular media, and this void, I believe, contributes to the multitude of unseemly sexist attitudes and laws and behaviors to which women are regularly subjected. (Or maybe they contribute to each other?)
Yet, how diminishing, that the value of my sex’s historical accomplishments requires the validation of a congressional vote and an annual presidential proclamation. The male dominated power that declares it our month might as well pat us on our collective female head with that rolled up parchment.
Yet, perhaps we gals should be grateful for the formal opportunity to encourage the enlightenment that the month is intended to engender in young people, as they learn of women’s overlooked commitments and achievements that have proved “invaluable” to society.
Yet, I don’t hear much noise from feminist circles about the fabulosity of this opportunity. I see no recognition of the month’s existence in the particular school where I volunteer with eighth-graders learning to write. And I see no evidence that discovering Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony, Rosa Parks, Gloria Steinem or Sally Ride has persuaded our nation’s institutions and businesses to honor women and our work—with equality.
So I wonder: Is Women’s History Month actually effective?
With that question nagging me, I called the California-based National Women’s History Project (NWHP). The nonprofit organization, founded in 1980, operates a website, newsletter and online store loaded with resources and teaching materials that illustrate the individuals and issues that have contributed to the rich women’s history missing from school textbooks—and from common knowledge.
I lucked upon NWHP co-founder, Molly Murphy MacGregor, and, although I really wanted to talk with her about her musical name, I managed to focus on the task at hand and asked how things were shaking, were requests for women’s history resources up or down?
It was an inane question, but Molly graciously avoided saying so. Instead, she sang an enthusiastic song of success. In the 1980s, she said, kids could not identify Sojourner Truth or Susan B. Anthony or Rosa Parks. That has changed. And that very day she had taken requests from a mayor in Alaska and the governor of Pennsylvania.
“The change that we see is not where we want it to be,” Molly said, “but where we are going—boy!—we are so incredibly encouraged!”
I am, too, but, still, there’s so incredibly much more to achieving women’s equality than Women’s History Month, and the challenges appear everyday.
There’s the aggravating politics of it all, of trying to function as a peer in a society dominated by decision-makers who have little or no understanding of women’s issues—and, unlike the Alaskan mayor and Pennsylvania’s governor, seemingly no interest in acquiring it. As though women are not relevant.
There’s the U.S. House of Representatives, where women hold only 78 of 435 seats and conservatives opposed reauthorization of the lifesaving Violence Against Women Act, holding it up for months, because they didn’t want to extend the act’s protections and programs to lesbians, Native Americans, and undocumented immigrants. As though the violence perpetrated against these women is somehow less awful.
There’s the New York City anti-teen pregnancy campaign that targets girls with shame tactics. As though boys are somehow absent from the equation—and as though shame is such a fabulous deterrent to sex.
There are the for-profit companies that have filed suit against the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate* (they’re not eligible for the religious exemption). As though the owners’ would got to hell if their female employees were to obtain contraception with their healthcare benefits. Perhaps if these guys went through the hell of labor and delivery, they’d be more rational about birth control.
Seriously, though, there are still so many hurdles that preclude women’s equality, equal pay, equal opportunities, equal rights. It’s dismaying.
And what does “Women’s History Month in Poetry and Prose” have to do with all this?
Not much—and that’s the joy of it!
I’m not only conflicted, I’m burned out on the politics of my sex. So this year, instead of haranguing the sexist evildoers any further, let’s recognize National Women’s History Month by celebrating women in writing.
We’ll also publish a piece or two by one of our favorite and sorely missed writers, Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, former poet laureate of Tulare, California.
And, Dan McClenaghan will remind us that women’s power lurks in some of the most unexpected places.
* Thanks to RH Reality Check for compiling the list of companies that want women to remain barefoot and preggers, and here they are, with links to their websites’ contact pages, in case you’d like to let them know what you think about their lawsuits:
Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc. (you’ll have to click on Contact)
Kit-Bacon Gressitt's commentary and political fiction can be read on her blog Excuse Me, I'm Writing and have been published by San Diego Gay & Lesbian News, The Ocean Beach Rag, The Progressive Post and San Diego Free Press. She formerly worked for the North County Times. She is also host of Fallbrook's monthly Writers Read open mic and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.