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Celebrating Women: Past, Present & Future Thumbnail

Celebrating Women: Past, Present & Future

My friends and family know me as a pretty fierce feminist (at least I like to think so!), so it may be surprising that I didn’t know much about Women’s History Month. Maybe the celebration is bigger than ever this year (or perhaps I just happen to be reading in all the right places), but March has brought on a tsunami of spotlights on women’s history and the power wielded by the once ‘gentler sex.’ It’s been marvelous, but it makes me aware that I had missed the narrative somewhere along the way. What is Women’s History month, anyway? When did it start? And most importantly, why does it matter—to me, to you, and to the future of women? I decided to research and find some answers.

Women’s History Month: what it is (in a nutshell) and why it matters

Women’s History Month began as Women’s History Week and was first observed the week of March 7, 1982. The weekly event continued until 1987 when the National Women’s History Project petitioned Congress to designate the entire month of March as Women’s History Month. Since then, March has been dedicated to celebrating and recognizing the achievements women have made throughout American history. It’s a movement that now stretches far beyond our national borders; together we honor ‘herstory,’ or history written from a feminist perspective.

But history is a funny thing. It’s all too easy for women (and everyone else) to take progress for granted and forget ‘from whence we came.’ Remembering is why studying women’s history is vital. After all, how much value can we place on our right to vote if we forget just how recently we didn’t hold that right? How can we value married women’s right to have a job if we forget that the ‘marriage bar’ that allowed companies to refuse employment to married women wasn’t banned until 1964? How can we muster the energy to fight for control of our bodies if we forget the horrors of the pre-Roe v. Wade world that ended in 1973? How can we understand the importance of the ‘glass ceiling’ if we are unaware of the struggle to shatter it once and for all?

I believe it’s true that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. Women’s History Month is an opportunity to tell our stories and continue to make progress. 

The 2021 theme: a focus on suffrage

 Each year, the National Women’s History Alliance selects a yearly theme. As 2020 marked the Centennial Celebration of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution that granted American women the right to vote, it was an obvious choice. But like everything else last year, the celebration was eclipsed by the pandemic. In response, the Alliance chose the theme again in 2021. It is surely worthy of a repeat! 

While the 19th Amendment technically gave women the right to vote in 1920, in practice, it was—and continues to be—a much more complicated story. Ratification was far from a suffragette’s dream. Facing backlash from their disapproving spouses, many women opted to stay away from the polls. Others faced state laws designed to thwart voting rights. When women persisted, they were met by intimidation and violence. Alice Paul, a prominent suffragist, said that the 19th Amendment was “only the beginning of the fight for equal rights.“ 

This history makes me immensely proud of Stacey Abrams, a true modern-day suffrage heroine. Abrams has fought for voting accessibility and turnout her entire career. She made history as the first woman and first African-American woman to hold political positions at the state and national level, becoming the House Minority leader in Georgia in 2010. In 2013 she created The New Georgia Project, a non-profit that helped complete 86,000 new voter applications, including many voters of color. After losing her bid for Georgia’s governor in 2018 by just 55,000 votes, she strengthened her resolve to battle voter suppression and founded the anti-voter-suppression organization Fair Fight Action in 2018. In 2020, her efforts played a significant role in helping Democrats win Georgia in the 2020 Presidential and Senate races. Last month, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Women making history

Women’s history matters because it makes it possible for women to make history today. On the political stage, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female Supreme Court Justice in 1981, followed by Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1993), Sonia Sotomayor (2009), Elena Kagan (2010), and Amy Coney Barrett (2020). In 2007, Nancy Pelosi became the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, then regained the role in 2017. And this year (drum roll please!), Kamala Harris made history as the first Black and female Vice President of the United States. 

Political power, of course, paves the way for progress in every other area of our lives. We’ve come a long way! As of 2020, 57 women have won the Nobel Prize, 65 women have traveled in space (and NASA recently announced that it would put the first woman on the moon by 2024!), and 37 women currently head Fortune 500 firms

Yes, it’s progress, but there’s still work to do! Even today, women must work harder, longer, and louder to achieve our professional goals, and when we do, we lag behind men in dollar-for-dollar earnings (80 cents to the dollar in 2020). We tend to save more than men, but we invest less: only 26% of women invest money in the stock market.[1] On the plus side, women seem to be wiser about money, achieving better overall returns. And here’s a statistic I love: 47% of women surveyed prefer hiring a professional financial advisor, versus 27% of men.[2] 

Winston Churchill said, “History is written by the victors.” Now that women are winning more often than ever, there will be new stories to write. And women will be writing them. With strong, accomplished women buoying us up, the sky is our only limit—no glass ceilings allowed.  I’ll see you at the top when we get there!                

 

[1] According to S&P Global, 2020
[2] According to the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, 2020