|Sojourner Truth told, well... the truth|
As a person steeped in male privilege – that is, being granted significant societal advantages for no other reason than being born male – there was a time when I wrongly believed the annual month-long recognition was excessive. But that’s what any form of privilege does for you; it distorts your view the world. Science has proven even the most fair-minded people are affected by this implicit bias.
For me it started in grade school, maybe earlier. Mis-education back then conditioned my thinking in ways I wasn’t even aware. It still affects my perceptions to this day. It had little to do with any conscious efforts of my instructors. Instead it had to do with was what I saw textbooks. Or rather what I didn’t see: women.
Oh, women and girls were in the books. But their portrayals were systematical cast in supporting roles. Or worse, subservient ones. There were of course exceptions but most depictions were secondary to the “louder,” more prevalent messages conveyed about men.
|While ads like this are no longer common, attitudes still are|
What’s worse, this marginalizing and stereotyping of girls and women was reinforced in magazines, newspapers and other media, especially television. Countless news programs, TV shows and movies recounted tales that deemphasized the role of females in our society. And they continue to this day, though there is some change happening.
According to the latest census numbers, females consist of roughly half the American population. Yet despite all the equality and fairness laws, policies and other municipal, state and federal legislation passed in the last 100 years – grave inequities still exist. That’s a fact.
What we repeatedly read in books and see in pictures and other media set a framework for what we come to believe. That’s why it’s important to support efforts that counteract the negative narratives about women that bombard us daily.
|Time to change the narrative about women in history|
To most they are just names. Yet each contributed greatly to the sacred tenets upon which our nation was founded, but go largely unrecognized for their work.
This year’s Women’s History Month theme, announced by the National Women’s History Project, is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives”. The purpose is to underscore the need for “weaving” the full and complete story of women into the cultural fabric of U.S. history.
This is no small task, considering the origins of our nation are rooted in oppressive patriarchal beliefs, practices and policies – many of which continue to this day.
This year is the 35th anniversary of the National Women’s History Project. To celebrate, they chose nine women as honorees. Collectively their work spans the 20th Century, contributing to the effort of writing women back into history. They are:
Delilah L. Beasley (1867-1934), historian and newspaper columnist
Gladys Tantaquidgeon (1899-2005), Mohegan medicine woman, anthropologist, and Tribal elder
Eleanor Flexner (1908 –1995), historian and scholar
Polly Welts Kaufman (1929-Present), writer, teacher, activist
Lynn Sherr (1943- Present), broadcast journalist and author
Judy Yung (1946-Present), oral historian, author, and professor
Darlene Clark Hine (1947- ), historian and educator
Holly Near (1949-Present), singer, songwriter, social activist
Vicki L. Ruiz (1955 – ), educator and pioneer in Latina history
Collectively these women have written, co-authored or edited more than 90 works in the form of books and music CDs. The result is an anthology of creativity rooted in fact that surfaces the depth and breadth of the multicultural womanhood. They are important and deserve recognition because of their role in constructing authentic women’s stories for all to include in our thinking about American history. Google them.
The stories of women’s lives encourage girls and young women to think larger and bolder. It also gives boys and men a greater understanding of the female experience and their importance. Knowing about women’s achievements challenges stereotypes and unravels assumptions about who women are and what they can accomplish today.
In Battle Creek, this work goes on by women, albeit in different ways. Some are well-known to the community, others less so. The ones listed are longtime friends and associates who continue to personally impact my life and work in Battle Creek as it relates to specifically promoting equity for women and social justice in general. Among them: Velma Laws Clay, Jackie DeHaan, Kate Flores, Michelle Frank, Lynn Gray, Reba Harrington Brenda Hunt, Jean Krohn, Linda McKinney, Teresa Phillips, Martha Thawngmung, Kyra Wallace, Val Whitney and Kathy Wilson. Perhaps most impactful of all as it relates to deepening my awareness of women’s history is Emily Joye Reynolds (my spouse). And then there is my own mother, Vivian Reynolds. The list goes on.
Everyone should have their own mental list of those close to them working to change the narrative of women. Do you? If so, let them know you see them. If not, create one.
Follow J.R. on Twitter @4humansbeing or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.