March is Women’s History Month in the U.S.A, Australia and UK. Canada celebrates women’s history in October. The key thing for me is not when it is recognized but that it is recognized at all. My goal is to share with you why this history matters.
I don’t know how many conversations I have had in which my enthusiasm for telling stories of women’s history results in people’s realization of just how little they know on the topic. More questions come forward to which I try to respond and for the women in the room, especially, I see them go from interest, to pride and then to frustration. The frustration comes from a greater awareness that all this history isn’t common knowledge; a sense of being cheated. Invariably, the conversation progresses to how many males in history we know versus women.
To me, it has to go beyond the conversation of women missing from the history books and instead go to, how are we going to ensure that the legacy and accomplishments of those past and present don’t continue to get swept into a quiet dusty corner of the library or book store? In fact, for a moment I want you to consider when you last stepped foot into a book store or library. Could you easily find the books on women’s history? I know that if you found it at all, the section would be very small. Despite the extent to which women have participated in the advancement of this world there is still not enough emphasis on writing, presenting or educating the public on their contributions.
Why should you care? Why should we care about learning any history? Simply put, it opens our minds in a way that very few things can. It gives us both the pain and the pleasure, the dream and the journey, the learning that comes from intelligent ideas through to tangible mistakes. History gives us blueprints for the future and commands us to recognize sacrifice in the pursuit of goals. Through history we a drawn into a play of characters and circumstances that help us identify so many attributes within our ourselves. Sometimes there are stories we hold in high regard and other times there are things we wished were not a part of our human experience. We gain our pride and self esteem when we can look at an individual (or individuals) in history who embody the characteristics we want to cultivate or may possess.
When women get left out of the history lessons in our schools, books and media, then we essentially only learn a fraction of what has happened, is happening or could happen. It is an inaccurate accounting of events and by that omission we are not only obtaining misleading information but have created a false representation of women’s roles in society. This distorted interpretation fuels the lack of communication and respect that can exist between girls and boys, women and men. It is difficult to have a fair discussion on the relevance and contributions of women when everything thus far has been taken out of context.
Self esteem and dreams are built often by the seed of one comment or influential encounter. It's a piece of knowledge from or about a woman who broke barriers, changed the course of history, patented a product, invented a cure, contributed through military service, traversed the globe, built a business empire, fought for rights or died for her beliefs. All of these examples can be the seed that changes our lives. Girls will benefit from this identification on multiple levels but society benefits through the skill development and contribution that comes from an empowered woman.
This is not the sole responsibility of women to ensure historical information is accurate, it needs to be something that all educators, parents and general public take on as an important project. Understanding the significance of women, away from mainstream portrayals and often exploitative illustrations, assists in the elevation of our relationships both personally and professionally. There is no other forums in which we would appreciate only hearing half the data. We would most likely feel slighted if someone fails to give us a full accounting of the facts or paints a picture that is unflattering. Yet, we have been apathetic to the missing pieces of our collective history, mainly because women were deemed irrelevant.
What can I do? It is time to honor women and to recognize that if we appreciate history at all then we must add in the stories of those whose contributions have been sorely missed. If you are unable to rally your schools or libraries to see the value in expanding the knowledge of women’s history then choose to pass along what you’ve learned to your children and anyone else who will listen. The story you tell may change one person’s perception of women or propel a girl towards what she previously thought was an unattainable dream.
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