It’s Women’s History Month, which means obligatory tributes highlighting women’s accomplishments have been sneaking into your news feed. You know what I’m talking about — the ones with the little bios of Amelia Earhart, Hillary Clinton and maybe even a couple female CEOs or actress-philanthropists. And I’m feeling the pressure of adding one more of these to your pile, because I obviously have to offer something relevant to the conversation on behalf of the YWCA. But the truth is I have nothing.
What can I say? We’ve come so far? Women are people, too? Forgive me if this is deflating anyone’s “I Heart Women’s History” balloon, but the way we’ve been commemorating this month has left me a little bored.
I think I’m turned off by the usual tributes because something about them feels insincere — or at least incomplete. We create magazine features and run History Channel specials on “exceptional” women all month to say, “See? Look how well women are doing!” But with every ornate narrative about the rare woman to excel in a male-dominated field, what we’re really pointing to is that the exceptional woman is still just an exception to a rule. If that’s the only way we’re going to continue to go about celebrating women, can we just cut through the inauthenticity and go ahead and change the name to Glass Ceiling Month?
If not, then I have another idea. We’re constantly talking about the “game-changers” and the “firsts,” and I think that’s absolutely necessary. Climbing a male-dominated power structure is a phenomenon worthy of commemoration. Wouldn’t it be more honest, though, if a month dedicated to the applauding of women’s contributions to historical and contemporary society not only showcased the women who “do what most women don’t do,” but also celebrated the women who do what women have always done? Women have been contributing motherhood for millennia, for example — where are their bios? Can a mom be celebrated during Women’s History Month, or does she have to be a mom/rocket scientist/entrepreneur to be worthy of recognition?
Again, I am NOT (did you catch the all-caps there?) saying we shouldn’t celebrate women who are accomplishing paradigm-shifting feats. Listen, if I were the first female to invent solar-powered hover pants, I’d definitely want to be honored somewhere.
But every year March rolls around, and we give 100 percent of our attention to women who are wonderful and yet really only represent a tiny percentage of who we are nationally, not to mention globally. We always go for the story about the woman who beat the odds and ran for office, or became a media mogul, or launched her own multimillion-dollar business. We hold these women up and declare them to be our heroes and role models, and they certainly are. At the same time, we completely ignore the reality that exists for the vast majority of the female population. The truth is that statistically, most women aren’t shifting paradigms, and maybe never will — is that OK? Can we applaud the women who are creating small shifts in their lives — pursuing their creative passions despite a busy schedule, helping their children go from a C to a B — or do they have to pioneer a radical way of being for them to be acknowledged for their contribution to history? Can a woman who put her career on hold and chose to be an inspired housewife be a hero, too?
If a woman has to do something out of the so-called “female box” for us to deem her worthy of a biography during Women’s History Month, are we really elevating her accomplishment because we see her as a woman expressed in all her glory, or did we choose her story because she’s met what we consider the male standard for success? If that’s what we’re doing, then aren’t we actually perpetuating the insecurity engrained in the mind of our gender? By excluding the unglamorous story of the everyday woman, we’re confirming that she’s nothing special — and should maybe even be ashamed for the “average” life she’s chosen. The message is loud and clear: If you’re just a plain old woman without a r√©sum√©, Women’s History Month isn’t about you.
And yes, I think that’s boring! Don’t you? We celebrate the first woman who went into space, and we can celebrate the woman who dedicates her life to creating a beautiful space — even if it’s a small one.
Women’s History Month is about my mom, who finds time to write funny haikus when she isn’t taking care of a family of six. It’s about her friend, Irina, who works all week as a paralegal, and then spends her weekends taking pictures of things that inspire her so she can share the beauty she sees in the world. It’s about my grandmother, who dedicates her life to helping others with her time and resources — and makes the best potato latkes I’ve ever had. It’s about the girls in Santa Monica putting themselves through community college because they want to be financially independent. It’s about the older ladies who come to exercise classes at the YWCA because they care about being healthy and fully alive at the age of 70. And yes, Oprah, it’s most certainly about you, too.
I don’t want to stop honoring extraordinary women — I just want to expand our definition of “extraordinary.” The exceptions and the rules, the moguls and the moms — the millions of us: You are extraordinary! And Women’s History Month is about you.
Join the movement at smywca.org.