"Kindly Peruse This Cordial Invitation" read the email’s subject line; the "Ladies of the Milk and Sugar Club" were inviting me to tea. On Wednesdays at 5:00pm we met in crowded dorm rooms, sipping chai and swapping stories. The invitation’s anachronistic language nodded to the oddity of holding Lady Tea Time in our liberal arts college setting—most of us had performed in The Vagina Monologues, after all—but each week our conversations were unironic, unarchaic. During Lady Tea Time, it was safe to voice my deepest, darkest gynecological fears. Finally, those fears could meet the raw laughter of recognition. Lady Tea Time helped me turn "Women’s History Month" into a weekly practice, rather than a yearly one.
I’m a scholar of women’s history, so you’d think March—the official Women’s History Month—would be the highlight of my year. You’d be wrong. As I (and many others) have written about before, it’s insufficient to devote one month a year to the story of more than half the population, and problematic to ghettoize women’s history as if it isn’t integral to our understanding of all history.
But you’d also be right. Because a governmentally proclaimed Women’s History Month presents the opportunity—one that I gleefully embrace—to engage people in the work of making women’s history. By “work” I don’t just mean study. Sure, it’s great for teachers to use March as a time to focus on women’s stories in their classrooms. But women’s history also suggests a model for radically shifting our understanding of history from an academic subject to a worldview, and even a social justice imperative.
I remember in my second grade classroom where the “History” bulletin board sat. It was in the far left corner, front of the room, right in my eye line. And I have a very clear memory of being infuriated as the “Black History Month” board was taken down and then replaced by “Women’s History Month.” My early feminist and anti-racist indignation was not kept silent—I often asked my teacher why we had only one month for African American history or women’s history…my question, as many have asked before and since, was:
Shouldn’t it all be the same? Shouldn’t we be learning everyone’s history?
The idea of Women’s History Month is relatively new. National Women’s History Week only became an official event in 1980 and was expanded to Women’s History Month in 1987. But here’s the surprising thing: unlike Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, which come every year, Women’s History Month is renewed year after year by a presidential declaration. It’s not automatic that we set aside time every year to think about women’s history and women’s roles in society; it’s an ongoing, conscious process.
This Women’s History Month, we invite you to think about women and change. Has Women’s History Month made a difference? Have you noticed a difference in how you live your life or perceive the world? Differences between your outlook on the world and the way your mom, your aunt, your daughter view things? Do we still need Women’s History Month?
The New York Times had an interesting article today on how female politicians are leveraging offensive and sexist remarks by Republicans to mobilize their base and help with fundraising campaigns. It’s an empowering and deeply satisfying act of political judo, using your opponent’s attacks against them so their smear campaigns only leave them covered in muck themselves.
Although there’s nothing Jewish about her music, Carrie Brownstein is a bonafide Jewish rock star, as well as cowriter and co-star of the hit sketch comedy show “Portlandia” on IFC. In an interview on the MAKERS website, she reveals her early interest in acting, her start in rock music, and her success as an actor and comedy writer.
I remember how excited I was to discover Rosabeth Moss Kanter in the early 1980’s. She was one of the few females writing about leadership and organizational change management. I hungrily devoured The Change Masters as a relatively new nonprofit CEO navigating roiling changes in the healthcare and political landscape while learning to lead a complex organization toward continued growth.
Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012), feminist and Asian arts impressario, was only 22 years old when she wrote women's rights into Japan’s constitution. In her postwar career as a director of performing arts, first for the Japan Society and then the Asia Society in New York City, she introduced Americans to Asian visual and performing arts, from Japanese wood block prints to Burmese music to Vietnamese puppets.
Sometimes when I’m speaking about my alma mater, Smith College, I’ll start with Gloria Steinem. Forget being the largest of the Seven Sister schools, or having the first women’s engineering program, or even the amazing education I received. For bragging rights, I go straight to fellow Smithie Ms. Steinem.