We have a lot to celebrate in Women’s History Month—the last one hundred years in particular have seen monumental gains in women’s rights, from the right to vote to the FDA’s approval of birth control to The Feminine Mystique to the Equal Pay Act to the founding of the National Organization for Women (NOW) to Gloria Steinem to the Equal Rights Amendment to Roe V. Wade to Sandra Day O’Connor to Sally Ride to the Violence Against Women Act to the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act to Hillary Clinton to the unprecedented number of women in the 113th Congress.
That’s quite a list of accomplishments, and certainly much to celebrate. I would say, in fact, that it’s pretty fortunate and certainly noteworthy that many of us hear these buzzwords and know their referents simply because of their prevalence in our cultural lexicon. And so we celebrate Women’s History Month to honor the proud heritage of our mothers and grandmothers who have fought through barriers of discrimination to get where we are at today.
But what about now? We still have a ways to go before achieving a more fully equitable society. Women see a significant pay gap at work, inadequate options for family leave, and an incessant slew of disrespect shown towards their health and bodies; what’s more, women this past year faced the argument of whether women can or cannot “have it all,” and what that even means. Given these contemporary issues, should Women’s History Month always be relegated to the past—a past that, while certainly relevant, is steadily retreating into history, placing more and more distance between the ‘then’ and ‘now’ of women’s gains?
Women’s history in the United States has a rich and vibrant background, especially within the twentieth century. And because there were such singular, outstanding female leaders from that era, we tend to take as our role models the pioneers of the ‘20s, the ‘60s, and even the ‘90s of the last century. In fact, I would wager that more young girls/women are familiar with the names of historical women in their textbooks than they are with the Marissa Mayers and Sheryl Sandbergs and Sandra Flukes and Elizabeth Warrens out there right now. Preserving the past is crucial for seeing just how far women have come, but we also need to look to the future and empower young women of today by the examples of smart, talented, inspiring, successful women who make up this present decade. We need a stronger community of female mentors at every stage so that women early on can begin a trajectory toward a successful, fulfilling life.
So, with Women’s History Month now winding down I say, to my female readers: open yourselves up to mentorship opportunities, whether as a mentor or as a mentee; action is inextricably linked to empowerment, so seek out women who inspire you and in turn model yourself as an inspiration for others. And to my male readers: acknowledge the strong women in your lives—wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, friends—and work to cultivate a society that disassembles, rather than builds, barriers of discrimination.