Women’s Herstory Month: Celebration and Challenge

March is Women’s History Month or, as we like to call it here at the Women’s and Gender Resource Center, Women’s HERstory month. It’s an opportunity to tell women’s stories, recognize women’s accomplishments, and learn about women who have been ignored in conventional historical narratives. You can read about the origins of Women’s History month in this summary from the Library of Congress. This is a month to celebrate the accomplishments of women and to take stock of the challenges that remain. As President Obama notes in his Presidential Proclamation for Women’s History Month 2016, we have made great progress toward gender equity and we still have a long way to go. He calls us to “uphold the responsibility that falls on all of us — regardless of gender — and fight for equal opportunity for our daughters as well as our sons.” In the Proclamation, the President notes some of the areas where we have not achieved equality and justice, including the lack of equal pay, the underrepresentation of women in STEM, etc.

GhaniInternational Women’s Day is also commemorated during Women’s History Month on March 8. Ms. Magazine published a blog with some of the reasons we still need International Women’s Day, as well as some of their favorite tweets from the day.

There are so many areas where entrenched sexism impacts gender progress. Despite evidence demonstrating that women’s advancement creates more success for businesses, there are only 20 women CEOs in the S&P 500. Companies with higher numbers of women on their boards of directors are also more profitable. These examples make clear that even the power of the capitalist profit motive doesn’t overcome patterns of exclusion and marginalization.

The pattern holds true in politics as well. Women comprise just 19.4% of the United States Congress, although the 2010 Census documents that women are more than half of the population in the US. Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox have written extensively about why women don’t run for office, as well as how they are treated when they do. In the academy, women are overrepresented in non-tenure and tenure-track positions and underrepresented in tenured positions. Only 26% of college presidents in the US are women.

In all arenas, these numbers get worse if you disaggregate by race/ethnicity and look at the data on women of color.

These patterns of underrepresentation are also impacted by violence and harassment. GamerGate, harassment of female sportscasters, harassment by law school deans, the persistent undervaluing of women’s contributions, harassment in the sciences, harassment in philosophy – the list could (and does) go on.

And, for those who think that this problem will be fixed once millennials ascend to positions of power in the workplace, research by Catalyst shows substantial discrepancies in perceptions about gender bias among millennials in the workplace.

In commemorating Women’s Herstory Month we want to note not just the problems that remain, but actions that move us forward. Catalyst compiled a number of successes and memorable steps in our progress towards equality over the past year. Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian’s next project is Ordinary Women, which “will document the stories of women you may not have learned about in your history classes, including Murasaki Shikibu, Emma Goldman, Ching Shih, Ada Lovelace, and Ida B. Wells.” Hillary Clinton is a strong contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. Carly Fiorina is a former contender in the Republican primary. There is some evidence that behavioral “nudges” can have an impact in changing cultural norms and expectations.

RiveraIt is also important to recognize that the continuing celebration of Women’s History Month is not unproblematic. Some argue that it reinforces the gender binary and makes trans women invisible. Others argue that the focus is on white women and their accomplishments, minimizing or erasing the accomplishments of women of color. There is much truth in both of these criticisms and we must all be committed to recognizing and honoring the successes of everyone who identifies as a woman and interrupting the rigidity of the gender binary and all that it constrains.

KennedyAs part of our Women’s Herstory Month celebration, we partnered with the Popel Shaw Center for Race and Ethnicity on a campaign to highlight Unsung Women of Color. Our partners at the library organized a display to highlight Unsung Women of Color, International Women’s Day, women in politics and more.

On March 30, we’ll be hosting Jessica Grounds to talk with us about Gender and the 2016 Election. Despite the continuing imbalance of women in political office, this historic election has/had women in both party primaries and issues with gender significance – such as equal pay, parental leave, and economic equality – are being discussed on the campaign trail.Jess Howard

And, if you want to dream with us about a world where gender and gender identity are not barriers to happiness, success and wellness, submit an image for our Feminist Coloring Book Contest.

Join with us in our efforts to achieve gender parity, disrupt the gender binary, and celebrate the wide range of gender expressions and gender identities that are part of our communities.

Written by Donna M. Bickford, Ph.D., Director, Women’s and Gender Resource Center