“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” American writer and editor Marie Shear first wrote in 1986.
A bit salty? Perhaps, but not untrue.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month this March, it’s important to recall the reason why we celebrate.
Women’s History Month (and Black History Month before it) do not exist to give preferential treatment to one group of people over another, but rather to level a playing field that was built on a slope.
The reason there’s no Men’s History Month, no “White History Month,” is not because these voices have no value, but because these voices have not historically been underrepresented.
No one thinks to publish a book of “men’s poetry.” We applaud Wordsworth, Coleridge, Whitman and Poe for their power as poets, not as men. Contrast this with “women poets,” often relegated by the half-dozen to a single chapter in the back of a gilt-edged poetry anthology.
According to the American Association of University Women, women executives are paid about 80 cents to a man’s dollar — women of color still less.
According to the National Science Foundation, women in STEM fields are often notable by their absence, comprising only 28 percent of women in the field.
And, too often, women are considered second-class contributors to the realm of American history.
A historical figure can — and ought to — stand on his or her own merits. But we must first ensure we are all using the same metric to evaluate those merits.
This month, we can and must pay our respects to those prominent women in history who have become household names: Marie Curie, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Florence Nightingale, Amelia Earhart.
But we most also reflect on the women whose names we may be less familiar with, but are no less important:
Ada Lovelace, widely considered the first computer programmer.
Rosalind Franklin, whose discovery of the double helix structure of DNA enabled scientists to first map the human genome.
Josephine Butler, who successfully campaigned against international sex trafficking and child prostitution in Victorian England.
Vera Atkins, a Jewish woman from Bucharest who worked as a linguist and intelligence officer in World War II and, while serving in the British War Crimes Commission, found more than 100 agents who never made it home.
Elizabeth Fry, an English Quaker who successfully campaigned for more humane treatment of prisoners and psychiatric patients.
Frida Kahlo, a Mexican artist whose works contributed much to the dialectic surrounding gender roles, class and identity.
Nelly Bly, the 19th-century journalist who chose to write about hard-hitting topics like political corruption and working conditions for the poor in a time when women journalists were expected to write about fashion and frivolities.
Sacagawea, who served as translator and liaison for the Lewis and Clark expedition, traveling thousands of miles from the Dakotas to the Pacific Northwest — with a newborn on her back.
Bessie Coleman, a black woman denied entrance to American flight schools who went on to become the first American woman to earn an international pilot’s license.
Katherine Graham, the first female publisher of a major American newspaper, under whose intrepid leadership the Washington Post published the Pentagon Papers and broke the Watergate scandal.
Finally, Women’s History Month is also an opportunity to thank the strong women in our own lives, those whose names may never be known to history.
So — if you are a woman — be kind to yourself this month. Don’t forget to practice self-care. Encourage the women around you. Support women entrepreneurs and nonprofits run by women and for women. Make a conscious effort to mentor younger women. Stay informed about women’s issues. Read books and watch documentaries on the women who shaped history.
Most importantly, raise your children to be the kind of heroes and champions who treat all people with respect and honor the dignity of the human person, regardless of gender. Create a world where your sons have every opportunity available to them in life.
Then, create a world where your daughters have the same opportunities as your sons.