Thursday, March 7, 2013

What do you get a girl for Women's History Month?

I'm not going to lie. I have mixed feelings about Women's History Month. I imagine that African-Americans feel the same way about Black History Month, and people of Latin heritage feel the same way about Hispanic Heritage Month. It's too little too late.

The Euro-centric patriarchy is saying: Hey, we know we've systematically oppressed you. We know that we've treated you as property, refused to listen to you, and under-educated you. We know that we've written a story of our country that doesn't include you. But look - here's a month where we'll put up posters you!

I kind of want to say back: Hey, take your stinkin' month.

But then again, I want to run through fields of flowers and hug my copy of Little Women in celebration.

(Insert crack about how women never can make up their minds, to put the misogynist cherry on top of the sundae of my mixed feelings).

Despite the fact that we can't erase thousands of years of oppression with 31 days of NPR stories about boundary-busting women, it's worth pausing for Women's History Month. Why? Because many think that feminism, like other equal rights movements, is no longer needed. Here are a  few things to think about, if you're not sure why we still need a women's rights movement:
  • Globally, 1 in 5 girls who are eligible are not in primary school. 2/3 of illiterate adults are women.
  • Only 12% of university physics faculty members are women. 43% of physics faculties have NO women.
  • Women are 51% of the population but hold only 18% of the seats in Congress. This is a historical high. Only 29 women in Congress are women of color. 
  • Seems obvious, but the US has never had a female president or vice-president. Countries that have had a female head of government? Pakistan, Bangladesh, Germany, Norway, Indonesia... and more
  • On ABC's Scandal, Kerry Washington is the first African-American female protagonist of a network drama in FORTY YEARS. Mindy Kaling is the first woman of color to write, produce, and star in a network sit-com. EVER.
  • Hollywood's highest earning male actor (Tom Cruise) makes $75 million a year. The highest paid female (Kristen Stewart) makes $35 million.
Even if all of these statistics eventually become equalized, will things really have changed?

Here's the thing about oppression: the oppressors write the rule book. They get to determine what it means to be successful, to be good, to be worthy. Improvements in civil rights become defined as "getting to do what the oppressor formerly kept you from doing" -- things that the oppressors deemed as valuable in the first place.

So yes, women might one day make as much money as men. And then what? The idea that money is a sign of worth has been imposed by a system created by and benefiting white men. Women might hold more political offices, but the governmental systems are all defined by the patriarchy. All our dearly-held values were determined by a system in which the voices of women and minorities were diminished.

So what does this mean, if we are seeking to be equals in a system that we didn't create? What does it mean for Women's History Month?

I don't know for sure.  I think it means that we have to say what we want, and not what we believe we should want. We need to stop judging other women. Women have to tell a lot more stories, in our own ways -- not just stories of the women who get on Women's History Month posters, but stories of our mothers and grandmothers and sisters. And then we need to shut up and listen. Because the patriarchy has determined that the person with the loudest voice is the one who gets the spoils, but there exists within us a world where the one that hears the softest voice will gain the greatest wisdom.

1 comment:

grace said...

In the vein of "so what do we do about it now?" I thought you might be interested in this series of posts by a teacher blogger who is collaborating with a female student of his to redesign his physics class to be more gender neutral: this post explains the purpose, and here's one example.