March is said to come in like a lion. How fitting then that Americans are giving a roar of approval to women this month by observing Women’s History Month. Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t that be HERstory rather than HIStory if the fairer sex is in the spotlight?
Taking time to recognize the contributions of women to our society is a fairly modern concept. Women’s History Month itself has only been observed annually in the United States since 1987. But the event started out on a much smaller scale–a quarter of that time, or a week, to be exact.
We can thank the education system for generating a time for folks to become educated about positives attributed to women. In 1978, the Sonoma County, California school district came up with the idea of highlighting women’s contributions during a weeklong celebration. This initiative was driven by the fact that there really was no women’s history included in K-12 curriculum.
But why limit a celebration to just one week when a month is available? Sonoma County’s project was such a success that in February 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared a National Women’s History Week for the week of March 8th. Seven years later, Congress designated March as Women’s History Month.
Since 1988, U.S. presidents, both Democratic and Republican, have annually proclaimed March to be Women’s History Month. And you thought the political parties couldn’t agree on anything, right? OK, there’s one thing they can both support–giving women (who can now vote) some recognition.
Why is a focus on women in our society apropos? In the first place, lots of women are out there. Sex ratios in the U.S. favor females. Women have accounted for 51.1% of our country’s population since 2013. As of July 2019, females in the U.S. numbered 166.6 million. And when it comes to the older generation, women 85 and over outnumber men approximately 2 to 1. Those, to quote singer Helen Reddy, are “numbers too big to ignore.”
Women make up 48% of this country’s workforce and earn 57% of bachelor’s degrees awarded. The bottom line is that plenty of educated women are in our society; they not only live in it, but they are productive in it. And, apparently, they tend to outlive the men.
Although superior in numbers, women have not always been treated well or found themselves in positions of power. Female authors, a group near and dear to this writer’s heart, often wrote under pen names when society deemed it inappropriate for them to contribute literarily. Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Mary Ann Evans (more famously known by her male pen name of George Eliot), for example, utilized fake names. And it was not even until the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1974 that women were authorized to obtain a credit card in their own name. Thank goodness, we women have CHARGED ahead past this hurdle.
But despite disparate treatment by society, women have risen above these challenges and accomplished much. Even a good woman couldn’t be kept down in ancient times. History records one, and only one, female pharaoh. That would be Hatshepsut who, though way less famous than King Tut, managed to reign quite a bit longer than he did. “Hat,” as I’ll call her, retained her throne for 20 years as the 5th pharaoh in the 18th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt. Her reign lasted twice as long as King Tut’s, but who do we hear more about?
In addition to governing, women can be as daring or as stupid as men. In June 1983 Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Should we perhaps call her an astronette? While Ms. Ride bravely rode up into the heavens, an earthly ride showed the less than smart side of a 43 year old female schoolteacher. In October 1901, Anne Edison Taylor thought it would be a great idea to go over Niagara Falls in a wooden barrel. She was the first person to attempt this feat and, amazingly, she survived with only a small gash to her head. Apparently that injury knocked some sense into her as she didn’t try that foolishness again.
Other women are lauded not for taking on nature, but for maintaining order in society. In 1981 Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. If women can keep order in families, why not allow them to tackle doing the same for society in general?
Notorious RBG, a huge proponent of gender equality, followed the trail blazed by Sandra Day O’Connor to the high court. When Justice Ginsburg was asked in a 2014 interview with NPR when there would be “enough” women on the Supreme Court, she unhesitatingly responded when there was nine, i.e., every seat was held by a female. Explaining her seemingly outrageous answer, RGB noted that no one ever thought it strange when men occupied all the seats. Hmm. She had a point!
And leave it to 1940’s film star Hedy Lamarr, often called the most beautiful woman in film, to dispel the notion that a woman can’t be pretty and smart at the same time. Hedy, who appeared in 30 films in a career spanning 28 years, was pretty smart. How smart you ask? She was so smart that, in an effort to help the World War II effort, she developed a radio-controlled torpedo device using a frequency hopping technique to prevent signals from torpedoes from being jammed.
The U.S. is not the only country to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. March 8th is International Women’s Day, an event first observed by the United Nations in 1975. Nevertheless, the first IWD celebration was held in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany, and Switzerland, with over a million people marking the event. Leave it to Americans to expand the recognition of women to an entire month. We tend to supersize everything, not just our fries.
Although women are spotlighted and recognized during Women’s History Month, celebrating achievements should be an ongoing activity not limited merely to a specified timeframe. Likewise, EVERYONE deserves recognition for their achievements be they male or female, young or old, educated or uneducated, etc. If people take nothing away from Women’s History Month, let’s hope they comprehend that we need to accentuate the positives in this world. Enough negatives exist; let’s focus on successes instead.
What achievements by women, if any, do you recall learning in school? How should Women’s History Month be celebrated? Have you read or heard anything about Women’s History Month or International Women’s Day during March? What woman do you believe is deserving of recognition for her achievements this month?