Mar 012010
 

Some people question why there has to be a Women’s History Month. They wonder why we have to differentiate between women’s history and history in general. After all, doesn’t history include all of mankind (oops, I mean humankind)?

Migrant Mother, 1936, by Dorothea Lange

Well, no, it doesn’t. Women are sadly underrepresented in the annals of history. Even though we are the majority when you’re talking about the sexes, we’re routinely treated like a minority. We’re just not given our due when it comes to who has made the greatest contribution. That might not seem true, because it does seem to be mostly men who have instigated the wars, legislated the laws, written the great books, created the most famous art, been the greatest leaders. And yet, where would these men have come from if it weren’t for women?

I don’t mean that they needed women to give birth to them. That’s obvious. What I mean is that women created the environment in which they were raised from their formative years to adulthood. Their fathers may have inspired them, but their mothers laid down the foundation for the kind of men they would become. Of course, their influence could be for the worst rather than the better, but there’s no denying the power women have had in the nursery and the school room.

And when you speak of women’s power, there is always the power of sex. How many men have done what they’ve done for the love of a woman? Of course, women do the same for the love of a man, but the effect is mainly personal, whereas men tend to show off in the larger world in order to attract the attention of those whom they desire. So you could say that women truly do hold the power behind the throne, whatever kind of throne that may be.

Feminists tend to downplay the power that women have in relationships, because being in a relationship isn’t the same as doing something. Betty Friedan wrote in her book, The Feminine Mystique, that the women of her generation (not to mention her class and race) felt unfulfilled in the home, as if the relationships they had there were of no consequence. But it wasn’t so much that what they did in the home was unfulfilling as that it was unappreciated. Men have been notorious for downplaying the accomplishments of women, and I think that starts with a lack of appreciation for what a woman accomplishes as a wife and mother. They take women for granted, because they’re always there in the background, fulfilling all their needs and making it possible for them to go out into the larger world and accomplish things there.

But even that’s not quite what I mean about the importance of women in history. Men have always been appalled by the woman who steps outside of her little world in the home and makes her mark on the same stage as men. Women’s accomplishments outside of the home have largely been history’s “dirty little secrets.” How many people have heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Sojourner Truth, Jane Addams, Mary Harris (“Mother”) Jones, Margaret Chase Smith, or Katherine Graham, to name only a few?

Keep your eyes and your ears open during March and you just might learn something you didn’t even know you didn’t know about the most influential group of people on earth.

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