Women’s History Month needs a new perspective

Listening to their teachers talk about Women’s History Month, little girls’ minds are flooded with questions: Why do women need a separate month dedicated to their history? Is women’s history not just part of regular history? Shifting their glances to the boys of the class, the girls wonder why there is no “Men’s History Month” — does that imply that they got all 12 months to themselves? Do men already have their place in history secured?

Women’s History Month has always felt like a shallow gesture, a pat on the head, a “here’s the time of the year that we think of you!” from men who already have their 12 months.

It is not that we should not celebrate women’s history, or any people’s — it is that no group should feel relegated to only four weeks a year.

It is not enough to dedicate a month a year to the celebration of any oppressed group, as if the payment of lip service is insufficient.Rather, we must acknowledge that the debt our society owes to these groups cannot be repaid through a footnote on our calendars.

Not only is addressing women’s history once a year further isolating and perpetuating gender segregation, but the format of how it is currently being taught also has its faults.

Although it can be gratifying to pause and appreciate how much progress has been made — women in the United States gained access to birth control in 1916, achieved suffrage in 1920 and liberated their divorce rights in the 1960s — the teaching of women’s history often feels like its purpose is to educate men about how they should treat women, rather than focusing on the persistent quest for equality. Women’s History Month should be dedicated to focusing on reforming long-standing historical injustices, not to make our past more easily digestible and convenient for men, with the intent of educating them about gender inequality.

Every year during March, social media posts often highlight statistics such as women earning only 82 cents for every dollar earned by men for the same job. These reiterate the existing problems of unequal pay that women are already aware of, instead of taking action to address them.

Curriculum surrounding education on women’s history often commodifies their achievements, suggesting that women are only valuable when they do extraordinary things, such as flying solo across the planet or dying for a cause. While the progress of women entering male-dominated fields is promising, the month continues to undervalue traditionally female-dominated fields, such as nursing, childcare and teaching. The focus of the month should be on recognizing the contributions of all women, including so-called “ordinary women.”

While the concept of “herstory” may sound empowering, it undermines the fact that all genders share a collective human history. When conducting a search for historically influential female figures, Malala Yousafzai, Marie Curie, Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman are some of the many names that pop up.

Notice that these figures have not only shaped the history of a singular gender but also the history of humanity. The key is to avoid seeing history as a collection of fragmented stories and instead approach it as a unified whole.

Confining the recognition of women’s history to a few lines in a textbook or one month in a year reduces women to a limited subset of history.

Ultimately, the existence of Women’s History Month implies that more support for women is needed throughout the year. It ought to be an opportunity not just to recognize women’s struggles and achievements but also actively challenge the obstacles set by the patriarchy that make such achievements a struggle in the first place.

Read on Issuu.

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