Women’s History Month. Wow. How’s that for a heavy load of words? I’ve been asked (directly or indirectly) several times already what woman from history has most influenced my life. Now that’s a question that requires a lot of thought. I’m not sure I’ve got time for that kind of thought. I’ve got too many dishes to do.
But I’ve tried. The thoughts go like this.
American woman? I’m first generation American, do American women from history influence my life? Lithuanian women? Russian women? Don’t know any of them. Mormon woman? I’ve been a Mormon since my parents converted, but don’t know if I’ve actually been influenced by any pioneers. So, no pilgrims, no pioneers, no Americans, no foreigners. Who exactly do I know??
OK, so I know that my life is externally influenced by a lot of amazing women, both for good and for ill. Everything from suffrage to radiation treatment can be attributed to the incredible accomplishments of women. But it’s just so…broad. I can’t distill an entire gender’s accomplishments and foment them into something I can claim as a part of my own. Women are as diverse and fragmented as, well, men. It feels too much like saying, “Let’s celebrate human’s history month.”
I need a little specificity.
Women are remarkable beings. But so are men. And all of us can be mean, petty, catty, selfish, unruly, and divisive. While I might not celebrate the accomplishments of the Feminine Mystique, or the dogma of women’s ordination, I can certainly admire and respect the largely unknown women physicists who worked on the Manhattan Project, or the valor of conservationist Marjorie Harris Carr.
But doesn’t dividing us just continue to propagate our established political divisions? Just as incessantly talking about race ensures racisms continuation, incessantly separating us from our other half only serves to further the sexist argument. Maybe I’m wrong. I kind of hope I am. I hear so many women talk about the strength and power they feel from strong and powerful women in history. They speak in beautiful words. They articulate spectacular struggles and amazing achievements. I can certainly appreciate the power of these women’s stories. I just don’t know that their struggles give me strength. I see many strong and powerful stories about men throughout history, and they stand in equity to the women’s stories I hear. Sometimes can’t they just be stories? Do I have to continue to assign them to their proper place in the gender history of the world?
Perhaps that is the luxury of being alive in this post feminist-movement world. Joanne Alter (the first female elected to an office in Chicago. 1972.) said that younger women, “don’t understand, because they didn’t have to fight the battles we did.” She’s right. I have never felt the inferiority which so pervaded society even 30 years ago. I’ve never felt the need to define myself in terms of my “womanly” accomplishments. I have the power to have such audacity. For many of my assumptions, I owe a great deal to the sacrifice of women. But for all the struggle for women to come forward and stand next to men in the annuls of history, aren’t we asking those very women to once again separate themselves?
At the heart of this feeling I have is the conclusion that if women are to stand up together and chant, “Woman Power!”, we’re standing up together to implicitly suggest that we seek to behold our own majesty at the peril and languish of our counterparts. “Celebrating womanhood”, to me, suggests that we would subsequently mourn the other choice, as in we sure did get lucky on that one (those poor guys…).
And while I realize that men have enjoyed the spotlight in history for millennia, and women have so many times been overlooked or underestimated, I just don’t see this as the solution. It feels like a token achievement to suggest we need to be pandered to in order to be happy. Of course let women stand next to men in the annuls of history, but let’s focus on something we actually can control — our own histories.
So to celebrate Women’s History Month, I say honor greatness, wherever you find it. Create greatness whenever you find the chance. Foster greatness in those you have influence over.