On Women’s History Month


 

Let’s get rid of Women’s History Month.

It’s unnecessary and only furthers the marginalization of women.

Instead of trying to shove every single contribution that women have made into a mere 31 days, we should be focusing on the achievements of women all year round.

I believe that designating a single month to teach about the accomplishments of women allows us to forget about women for the other eleven months of the year. We appease our conscience in March and allow sexism to run rampant the rest of the time. And that somehow becomes okay because women have a month in which to celebrate.   

In 2005, Morgan Freeman said that the concept of Black History Month isridiculous” since black history can’t, and shouldn’t, be confined to a single month. Black history is American history and to separate it from the standard curriculum is a disservice. I think the same is true for women and Women’s History Month.

Women’s History Month. Via The COM Library/Flickr

Women’s History month began as  International Women’s Day in 1911. In 1978, the Sonoma, California school district designated the week of March 8 as Women’s History Week. The following year, Sarah Lawrence College held a 15 day conference about women’s history. President Jimmy Carter, in 1980, declared a National Women’s History Week. It then morphed into Women’s History Month in 1987. Since 1988, presidents have issued annual proclamations designating March as Women’s History Month.

Women’s History Month was then used by various state departments of education to promote equality in the classroom by distributing curricula that prompted discussion about the contributions of women to the United States.

For most of history, women have a been a footnote, rather than a chapter heading. We have been relegated to the unread sections of our history books. Making a conscious effort to teach about minorities and women is important, but we need to do it in a way that doesn’t allow us to be ignored the rest of the year.  

As Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English at Liberty University, so eloquently put it

“A long view of women’s history is important because history, as we all know, is written by the victors. We must be intentional about correcting the record to account for past injustices and oversights toward women (and many others) so as to prevent the same in the future. It is important to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of women and to lament their past and present potential, laid waste by the sieve of sexism.”

It’s important to focus on where we’ve been and how far we’ve come. But it’s also important that we don’t lose sight of the future. We can’t rewrite history and give opportunities to those who were denied, but we can give opportunities to women now, and in the future, as a way of correcting past injustices.

A token month is not the way to do that.

Women’s History Month 2015 book display. Via The COM Library/Flickr

In recent years it’s become banal. It’s something we do because we feel we have to. We write a few blog posts, enjoy a handful of movies that center strong female characters, and try to expand our literary horizons by reading the works of women. None of this is bad. In fact, it’s great. But do we continue to center the stories of women once March comes to an end? If we don’t, then what’s the point? What have we learned from Women’s History Month if the corrective measures we take in March don’t find their way into our everyday lives?

We need to start from the bottom and change the way that we teach history and literature in elementary and high school. We need to shape the curriculum to allow for in-depth discussions about the roles women played in the rise of the United States. Having Women’s History Month should not be an excuse to not include the exploits of women in the standard education of our children. But by having Women’s History Month that it exactly what is happening. We only discuss black history in February and women’s history in March and the other ten months are devoted to the exploits of white men who became great by standing on the backs of women and minorities.

But would abolishing Women’s History Month cause us to ignore women’s history all together?

I think there is some benefit to designating time and making an effort to focus on marginalized groups. However, that designated time shouldn’t be the only time we talk about the contributions of minorities.

While it starts with Women’s History Month, it shouldn’t end when April begins. The education should continue year round. When it’s relevant, teachers should make sure to mention the achievements of women, and integrate them into regular lesson plans, instead of waiting until next March to lump in everything together.