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Women

By Justine Dorton

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.

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About Justine Dorton

Justine is a mother to five children, and has a husband lodged somewhere (probably in the den). She is not very fond of speaking of herself in third person.

21 thoughts on “Women”

  1. Great post. I can appreciate what I think you're saying. I get a little annoyed when any time a woman does something for the first time and we have to qualify what she's done as "first woman this" or "first woman that." I see that as divisive and it seems it somehow takes away from any individual's specific accomplishments.

    At the same time I can also appreciate something like Women's History Month because so many of the women in history are unknown or their stories are not told very often. I remember as a kid wondering why there was such a thing as Mother's Day and Father's Day and no Kids' Day. My parents always told me it was because every day was Kids' Day. I can liken that to Women's History Month in that for me it's OK to have a day (month) when we focus on the less acknowledged. I don't really see it as being pandered to or as standing up and chanting "Women Power" so much as taking an opportunity to create a better awareness of the lesser known and to acknowledge from whence we came.

    And as long as I personally know women who are controlled and dominated by the men in their lives and as I realize that while we might have come a long way here in this country, there are still gross injustices against women and young girls who remain completely powerless as part of the norm in other cultures, I believe continued awareness is necessary.

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  2. Oh, and I didn't mean "there are some levels I don't like," but I meant I like all of it, and there are many levels to it, much depth, etc. Wonderful essay!

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  3. What a thought-provoking post!

    On one hand, I love so much what you have said, because that is where we should be. We should not celebrate womanhood so much that we try to be separately powerful, not needing men, or whatever else can happen when this celebration is taken to an extreme.

    But I also see benefit in celebrating womanhood. I agree with Maralise as one reason (because there still is repression of women in the world — and our leaders continue to address this problem), but I also see the need to celebrate womanhood because I think there is much in our culture that has tried to make us so much the same as men that we forget that God didn't create us to be 100% the same. If we celebrate womanhood to remind ourselves that we have a *part* in God's plan, that we complement the men in our lives (be it in the Church or family life or even elsewhere), then I think it can be a powerful thing. It's not just that we are equally as important to God, even though that is true. It is that we *are* different in some ways and it's supposed to be that way. Men and women were given different biologies, different roles, and even some level of different perspectives in order that they might come together, to complement each other to help God accomplish his work and glory. So, when we celebrate womanhood, we shouldn't stop there but keep the whole 'neither is the man without the woman'
    (I love love love this talk and scripture!) and vice versa thing in mind. If we celebrate womanhood in that context, then I think there is great value in such celebration.

    I also think, as was discussed elsewhere in a recent post, that part of the value of celebrating womanhood is to remind us that we don't need external measures to find our worth and value. (If we really believed that, I believe there wouldn't be a 'dogma of ordination' as you call it, for example.) And that is again where I think you make a really good point. Do we need stories of strong women to prove that women are strong? No, we need to really believe that we are of infinite worth because we are daughters of God…and again, then realize what that means in working with the men who also have eternal worth to God. And we need to trust a little more in those eternal measures rather than relying so heavily on the mortal measures such as power, position, prestige, possessions, pay….

    I was so struck by chapter 20 in the Pres. Kimball manual. It seemed to echo what Sister Beck had taught in her GC talks, and these messages resonated deeply with me. It seems to me that there is some value to celebrating the unique and important roles of women in the plan of God, else why would our leaders do it? It just needs to be done, imo, without celebrating womanhood for womanhood's sake, but in light of how women and men were created to work together in unity, love, respect, partnership and, again, interdependence.

    But all of that said, Justine, I still think you have brought up some really important points, because in the end, I do think too often women are celebrated in a way that ends up being divisive and sexist in its own right. (If the devil can't get us by repressing women, he'll get us to almost worship them.) I think there is a balance that can and should be struck. In the end, I think so much really depends on our hearts and what we really believe. If we feel we have to prove our worth somehow, I think the fruits are often divisive. If we are celebrating it all with the eternal plan in our minds and hearts, then I think it can be (and is) done in a way that is valuable.

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  4. Thought provoking post. Especially the following; "let’s focus on something we actually can control — our own histories."

    Two questions 1. Does the we refer to individual women or all women?

    2. If individual women then does controlling our own histories mean literally writing our own stories on lovely paper and binding it in books, or does it mean having control in our lives? Control might be tenuous at best.

    When I was a little girl my heroes were all men. Women were victims to be rescued by these heroes. Nancy Drew was the closest thing to an empowered female there was. No one talked about Madam Curry, Carrie Nation or Susan B. Anthony. I'm glad to have the stories of women available to girls who can see their possibilities and strengths, not just their weakness.

    I don't think this diminishes men in the least. It just widens the circle.

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  5. I absolutely feel in control of my own history. I have the power to shape my life in a lot of ways. I've been given roughly a century to accomplish whatever I'm capable of accomplishing here, and if I do nothing with that time, it's my own fault. I don't believe there is a "WE" as in all women. There is nothing larger in the female collective than a single individual. Nowhere does any one person have the ability to define history outside of their own. That applies to every great woman (and man) in history.

    And I understand your comment about tenuous control, Claudia. I think we often are merely living in reaction to the external forces around us, but I just can't buy the idea that an external force has the ability to control my attitude, my abilities, or my personal input. External forces could certainly control an outcome, but the outcome for me is largely academic. What I put into my life is far more important than the aggregate total in dollars, lives saved, children reared, mouths fed, cures found, etc. Wow. That probably didn't make any sense at all, did it?

    I do like the idea of widening the circle. It does feel less exclusionary than other creeds. I also fully acknowledge that for many, the idea of Women's History Month isn't so curdling in their mouths as it is mine. I just feel that we'll never really get over our fights if we continue to suffer ourselves inside of them. I know it isn't necessarily that way for everyone.

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  6. Hm. I am wondering if I missed what you really were saying in making my comment. If I did, I apologize.

    I guess I'm still not wrapping my mind around what you are saying, if I did miss it. 🙂

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  7. I guess I'm just plain ole' complaining about what I view as a continued divisiveness between men and women, parlayed into a battle for holidays. I guess I've got too many spurious debaters humming in my ear, because I'm viewing some of these things with an eye of cynicism.

    Women's history is important. Women are important. But I sometimes hear the rhetoric of Women's Studies or Women's History as be intoned as more important than men. I think we should be equal. I just don't like that part. That's all.

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  8. Ah, yes. I agree. Sorry, again, for my long comment. (I had to chuckle when you said something about my succinct comments on my blog. Funny, funny Justine….) 🙂

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  9. Ah, good grief. Why am I so dense today? I just realized the succinct comments were not mine. Funny, scary, Michelle…. I should not blog in such a state. Yikes.

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  10. I see Justine's point about the diviseness of some of these issues. I hate it when empowering women means putting men down. I hate comments like,"Men need the priesthood or they would never serve," etc.. But at the same time, even though we have made so many strides in women's rights and such there is still a lot of discrimination that goes on and there needs to be an awareness of that.

    I love for my daughters to have examples of strong women in their lives and in history to look up to but they can also learn the same lessons from strong men.

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  11. Thanks Heather, mystery solved! And M&M, I agree that there is much to enjoy of the differences between us, for our beauty and strength comes from both the similarities and differences. Our families and our relationships need both.

    I echo your comments about the balance needed. I think I could argue either side of this issue. I see the original intent, and I see how great we could make something like this.

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  12. You raise some good questions to which I don't think there are easy answers. Our ideals regarding race in this country, for example, are fundemantally at odds with each other–we can't both value and celebrate African-American heritage for its unique accomplishments and be colorblind.

    I'm curious, though, how you understand the goals of Women's History Month as opposed to, say, the goals of producing a literary magazine staffed exclusively by women. Are the situations fundamentally different? When it's time to celebrate all human history as a whole, will it also be time to turn Segullah into the writings of Latter-day Saint people? I haven't figured this sort of thing out for myself at all, so I hope this doesn't come across as snarky–there may be a good rationale for viewing the situations differently. I'm just wondering how you see those differences.

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  13. Maybe I can't reconcile my raging hypocrisies on this issue!! It's an interesting question though, Kiskilili.

    Am I arguing that any time you offer something exclusively for women that we de facto are acting in a discriminatory manner toward men? Does the NAACP create harm by continuing to separate and direct their efforts toward a specific group of people? Clearly that answer would be no for me. But am I then arguing that it is vital and important to accept and honor the differences in us? I think I would also argue for that side.

    I think the difference, for me, lies in intent. And of course intent changes as often as the weather, but I've heard a recurring theme over the last few years that escalates and venerates women to the point of demeaning and condemning men. That is the crux of my issue.

    The "goals of Women's History Month" certainly don't have to hold such polemics, but I worry that they tend to that direction.

    How's that for having my cake and eating it, too!

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  14. Heh–we all try to have our cake and eat it too, in different ways, I think. 🙂

    I'm also uncomfortable with rhetoric that "escalates and venerates women to the point of demeaning and condemning men," and I'm suspicious of discourse that claims women have "special powers" unavailable to men. So I haven't figured out for myself in what contexts there's value and utility in emphasizing distinctiveness and in what situations it's divisive and exclusionary. Anyway, thanks for your response.

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