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Women’s History Month: The Who, What, When, Where and Why of this important time of recognition

Hello and happy Women’s History Month!

Each year, March is officially recognized as Women’s History Month with a Presidential proclamation. This celebratory recognition is an opportunity for us to reflect on the role that women have played and will continue to play in our country’s past, present, and future. This rings particularly true with the annual theme for Women’s History Month, “Celebrating the Women Who Tell Our Stories;” designated each year by the National Women’s History Alliance (NWHA,) the theme for 2023 is a reminder of the impact of women’s voices in all spaces.

Here are the ‘who, what, where, when, and why’ of Women’s History Month.

  • WHO: In 1980, Molly Murphy MacGregor, Mary Ruthsdotter, Maria Cuevas, Paula Hammett, and Bette Morgan created the NWHA, then known as the National Women’s History Project (NWHP.) This was the group that successfully organized and lobbied Congress to designate March as Women’s History Month.
  • WHAT: National Women’s History Week, the first organized recognition in the United States, was planned and executed during the week of March 8, 1978, to align with International Women’s Day (IWD.) International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.
  • WHEN: The first declaration related to the celebration of women was issued in 1909 by the Socialist Party of America, marking the inaugural National Woman’s Day on February 28. The first International Women’s Day was introduced at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen in 1910 and was officially honored for the first time on March 19, 1911. The day then eventually moved to be solidified as March 8 in 1914 and has remained the same since.
  • WHERE: The NWHP was founded in Santa Rosa, California.
  • WHY: The inception of Women’s History Month is deeply connected to the social changes of the early 1900’s, including labor concerns and the movement for women’s suffrage. The massive population growth and the rise of new ways of thinking led to women becoming more vocal and active in their social and political liberation.

One incredibly crucial consideration when discussing the history of women’s rights movements is to learn from our past mistakes and continue to approach any and all recognition of women from an intersectional perspective. Intersectionality as a concept was introduced into the field of legal studies by Kimberlé Crenshaw and provides a framework for us to analyze the compounding impact of a person’s various identities. Initially developed to describe the simultaneous effect of race and gender, it reminds us that when we are analyzing systems and instances of oppression, and privilege, we must consider how these identities influence one another. It has since expanded to include other core identities such as ability, sexual orientation, nation of origin, and more. To summarize, it reminds us that the experiences and issues of women are not all the same and we must create equitable opportunities for the voices of all women to be heard.

So how can we individually work towards uplifting women’s voices? One easy way to do that internally is by submitting the names of women that should be highlighted this month in celebration of Women’s History Month (or for another Heritage and History Month.)

Here are four more ways to elevate the voices of all women during Women’s History Month and year-round:

  1. Intentionally consume media from a diversity of women: Check out this list of books by women of color; learn about lesbian history from oral storytelling projects; consider some of these podcasts created by women and people with disabilities;  and explore films from trans and gender diverse directors.
  2. Consider how we are socialized to listen to (some) women’s voices: The socialization of gender is a powerful thing and a much larger conversation than would fit in this particular point. There is a wealth of evidence, both peer-reviewed and anecdotal, that suggests that men interrupt more frequently than women, and that women are more frequently interrupted. We also know that women of color are interrupted more frequently than their white counterparts, and women in other intersections, like disabled women or queer women, face their own unique experiences with being silenced. So, as we push ourselves to identify “whose voice is missing,” we must also ask “whose voice might I be interrupting?”
    1. This behavior is particularly common in meetings and professional spaces. Consider asking yourself “why am I talking” or “W.A.I.T.” Write down your questions, comments, or feedback and wait until the person is done talking.
  3. Allow women to have different communication styles: Our communication styles, and how they are received, are also impacted by the socialization of identities. The “feminine register” is what linguists and psychologists call the communication style that some women use to present their ideas, or opposition to ideas, as smoother or more palatable. As such, society is not used to women who speak assertively – so much so that even women who are leaders are often penalized for these patterns. So before you label a woman as “cold” for being direct, or stereotype her as the angry Black woman trope, ask yourself if you would respond that way if the person had the same identities as you.
    1. Interested in speaking more assertively? Here are some tips on removing passive language.
  4. Pass the metaphorical microphone or use yours to amplify others: When we recognize the power dynamics in place, we can do better at leveraging our privilege. You can do this by sharing opportunities with women who may be overlooked, supporting someone when they are interrupted, or by amplifying the voices of others who may not be acknowledged.

These tips are just the beginning of the conversation about how we can show allyship across our individual identities like race, gender, and ability. As we continue to grow as an organization, I look forward to finding new and unique ways to uplift the voices of all the incredible women within OhioGuidestone.

Happy Women’s History Month!