Women’s History Month: A young woman’s perspective on diversifying the celebration

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, March 7th, 2018 at 4:35 PM

Donald’s is selling their signature Shamrock Shake and it’s Women’s History Month. 

Women’s History Month began in 1911 as International Women’s Day. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 “Women’s History Week.” Then, in 1987, Congress passed a bill instating the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.” 

Edinboro University has celebrated Women’s History Month since 1996, featuring performances, lectures and art displays revolving around the place of women in various career fields and academic disciplines. Since its initiation, many Women’s History Month celebrations have done the same: focus on highlighting the contributions of women in one field or another, or analyze the state of women in one historical context versus another. And that’s wonderful. Women who beat a path for more women to come after them should be celebrated — that is what the term “history” suggests. 

However, as Americans, and arguably more so as humans, we tend to glorify past achievements and ignore the lessons that those achievements can teach us. 

We’ve done so great by allowing these women to become renowned in their career fields, and yet women are still being paid less than their male counterparts in many of those same careers. We’ve progressed a long way from the times when women were locked out of certain disciplines, and yet we still have historic lows in the number of women in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) careers. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, STEM fields are made up of 76 percent men and 24 percent women. 

These numbers point to one conclusion: at some point, focus must switch to the realities of the modern woman if anything is to be gained from the observance of Women’s History Month. Yes, women like Barbara McClintock, Ida B. Wells and Margaret Sanger represented leaps and bounds in terms of the representation of women in STEM and journalism, and in the fight for female reproductive rights. However, if we continue to host events in which we only review their accomplishments in isolation from an analysis of what we, as women living in 2018, can do to use their accomplishments as a stepping stone, we are sorely losing a learning opportunity. 

Instead of asking: “What did these women do to advance the rights of women in America?” the question, instead, should be, “What can you learn from these women in order to be successful in what you want to do?” 

Bringing these career giants down to the everyday woman’s life is vital, especially in presentations given to young women just beginning their careers. 

I would gain so much more than history factoids if I could say something like, “Hey, this woman sought out experts to mentor her through her journey in that career, maybe I can reach out to this person that I know to help me gain experience in what I want to do,” after a presentation. 

Another note: Why must Women’s History Month revolve around the success of long dead pioneers? 

There are many women who are in the process of making history now, and who can serve as even more relatable role models to women currently circumventing the same issues that they most likely deal with on a daily basis. 

And then there’s the focus on established women being spotlighted. 

This one is tricky. 

On one hand, one asks if women who have no personal experiences in a career field can give observations about the treatment of women in said field. On the other hand, one could note that at some level the experiences of women in careers are uniform, no matter how high or low on the ladder that job is. It’s understandable that women who have established themselves in career fields deserve a lot of attention — they’ve beat the odds after all. The voices of young women who still haven’t found much success in their career fields, however, highlight the raw reality of the hardships and hurdles women face when they don’t have much experience under their belts. New perspectives, presented through new lenses not yet tainted by years of work in the same field can be refreshing. 

My argument is this: why not make Women’s History Month a conduit for greater things?

It’s wonderful to see women be the focus of conversations, but with minor alteration to include more diverse voices, Women’s History Month celebrations could be so much more.

To get involved with this year’s Women’s History Month celebration, Edinboro University is hosting several events including a presentation about the history of Planned Parenthood and “The Politics of new NEW feminism,” with Dr. Rhonda Matthews exploring icons like Cardi B. and Taylor Swift. 

Shayma Musa can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com. 

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