Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Month to Ponder

March is National Women's History Month. I remember hearing about this several years ago and thinking that it was a dumb idea. With half the population being women, I didn't understand why there needed to be a month dedicated to their history. Wasn't it inevitable that women were a part of history? Why designate a month to recognize that? But, therein lies the problem. Society doesn't recognize women's roles in history. 

Thinking about the history classes that I took, most focused on the contributions of men - white men, with the occasional sensational black man, like Martin Luther King, Jr. There were brief mentions of women, like Marie Curie and Rosa Parks, but that was pretty much the extent of female contributions that I remember from my childhood. However, I think we are so conditioned to applaud men that I was blind to the absence of women from most of my education. 

Looking back, the omission of women wasn't isolated to history classes. There was a lack of women in literature classes, humanities, science and math. The first Latin authors I learned about were Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. They are both fabulous, but why did I have to wait a whole semester to read Isabel Allende and Sandra Cisneros? No wonder I didn't consider it a possibility that someone like me could write a book! 

As the mother of a girl, I try to surround her with positive, strong female role models, point out how she is strong, independent and important, and show her that she can be and do anything she wants. I constantly point out women who are changing their realities, who are pioneers. I am always on the lookout for those examples, and it's sad that I even have to do that. If women were drawn into the landscape for all their worth and accomplishments, and given their earned place in history at the pace with which they change the world, I would have some help. 

All I can do is use my talents to change this. Aside from running a leadership program for women, I am conscious of gender as a writer. I create strong female characters. They are what I am drawn to when I read, and they are what excites me about writing. That is why we still need to designate a month to Women's History. Until the inclusion of women who make a difference is the norm across disciplines in school and the media, we have to take time to show our girls that they cannot be stopped because of their gender. It is imperative that they know that it makes them just as valuable as males, and we have to keep highlighting phenomenal women so our girls believe us.

When I look at the women in my life who dedicate themselves to a cause I am often in awe at how naturally they lead, taking on their passions while often nurturing families and other women. They are at the forefront of change, yet many times they are still in the shadows when it comes to recognition. As my daughter gets older, I want her voice and confidence to grow. She will face obstacles that I cannot tackle for her and she needs to draw on the strength and courage of the women who came before her, and those who will one day look at her as a role model. Until I know that she believes that she is as powerful and capable as any male, I will keep working to uplift women. My hope is that within her lifetime she can say that there used to be a month dedicated to celebrating the historic accomplishments of women, but that over time it became second nature to recognize women's contributions and that a designated month was no longer necessary. Until then, I challenge everyone, male and female to include women at the table, in discussions and decision-making. 

Women, encourage one another instead of putting each other down for the choices we make. We must be our own allies if we want to become a force to be reckoned with. Strike words like "bitch", "whore" and "hoe" from your vocabulary when it comes to women, and let the young ladies in your life hear you honor and support other women. They will emulate that and in time, we will see March as the month that welcomes Spring, and not the month that reminds us that we have a long way to go towards gender equality.

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