The Case Against Women's History Month
Women's History Month is here and I love it. Well, I 90 percent love it. At first sight, honestly, what's not to love? The Women's History Month site reads: "The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum join in commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history."
And I'm a staunch feminist, a proud women, sister, daughter, and partner. I even write for women's website. Women are my day-to-day. But there's a part of me that wonders — does having a month dedicated to women's history, to women, marginalize them? Does it shed light on deserving struggles and history or does it work as a placeholder that keeps society from having to take the full weight of women's history and integrate it year round?
"You could ask this question of all the celebration months including black history month but by using one specific time frame, it allows us to focus, annually, in ways we don’t on a daily basis," Lauren Leader-Chivée, co-founder and CEO of nonpartisan advocacy organization All In Together, tells Bustle. "It does have real value and millions of people around the country use the Women’s History Month designation as a frame for amplifying focus on women and women’s issues by scheduling events, conferences etc. in special ways.”
And I want to agree, but I think it's important to highlight some of the possible negative side effects focusing women's history and celebration in one month.
The criticism that women get one month out of the year and men get 11 (or that African Americans only get one month of the year and white people get the other 11) may sound flippant, but that doesn't mean it's any less true. Do I see the benefit to highlighting accomplishments throughout history that have been under-valued or outright ignored? Absolutely. But I also think that taking one month to focus on them may distract from integrating them into our curriculums and our consciousnesses 12 months, 365 days a year.
Take a look at President Jimmy Carter’s message to the nation designating March 2-8, 1980 as National Women’s History Week:
From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.
Amen. But I think that if we had more comprehensive representations all the time, then Women's History Month could be something different. Maybe Women's Celebration Month. Maybe like Pride for women, but with less glitter and worse dancing. All of the goals of the month are laudable, but "...commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration" of women is a pretty tall order. If we were better at integrating the rest of the time, we could focus the month — to celebration, education, awareness, history — to whatever we wanted. All the while ensuring that women's history and contributions get where they need to... right into our textbooks.
Again, this is absolutely true of any 'History Month', but while the movement may intend to celebrate contributions, historically and currently, doesn't the word history suggest that we're just looking back? Obviously there are huge benefits to looking back and celebrating the amazing women — and the plights of all women — throughout history. But we can't let the rhetoric trick us into complacency. We need to galvanize, to realize that we're smack dab in the middle of a hideous assault on women's rights. We need awareness and education. And while Women's History Month gives us so much good, we need to ensure that it keeps us looking forward as well as back.
Call me nit-picky, but I think being a strong supporter means lending a critical eye when needed. I am for anything that gets women into the spotlight, including Women's History Month. But having women full represented in history books and in the societal consciousness, 365 days a year, seems like the ultimate win to me.
So while we're celebrating, remembering, volunteering, and studying, keep in mind how we can make every month feel like Women's History Month — and keep your eye on the battles we're still fighting.
Check out the “Feminism” stream in the Bustle App throughout the month of March for more inspiring ways to celebrate Women's History Month.