omen’s History Month is dear to me because I admire females who refuse to be confined by a patriarchal system. I’m inspired by strong female leaders who don’t hold back — they speak their minds.
My mom, a widow, raised my three sisters and me in a small town in India during the ‘80s. In a male-dominated society, I witnessed the hardships and challenges she faced. Everyone was especially concerned for my mom as she had no sons. In a time of arranged marriages, organizing the weddings of four daughters was no easy task, and people thought her situation was particularly unfortunate. In a time and place where single mothers were almost unheard of, my mother has never seen herself as a victim or a martyr, but I see her as a warrior who raised us all entirely on her own.
My mom taught us that education and financial independence empower women. When she was younger, her brothers went to school but girls did not. However, as she grew older, at her insistence, my grandfather and other teachers taught her at home. After passing the high school exam, she went to college and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. Despite being denied access to school as a child, she became the principal of the first all-girls school in her hometown – I’m extremely proud of her. Looking back, my sisters and I were fortunate that she persisted with her studies because her ability to earn a living as a teacher was crucial for our well-being after we lost our dad.
I moved to America in the ‘90s and learned about the history of how women in the United States got the right to vote. I was surprised to find this didn’t happen until 1920. The word “suffragette” was new to me. I found out that a “suffragette” is a woman seeking the right to vote through organized protest. You can’t help but be grateful to these women who persevered and protested to get us voting rights. Nothing was handed to them through goodwill or a sense of fairness.
Nowadays, the word “feminist” can have a negative connotation in America. But it’s not a bad word. It’s about equal rights for women — socially, economically and politically. According to Vocabulary.com, “If you believe that women should have the same political, social and economic rights as men, you are a feminist. It has absolutely nothing to do with putting down men or boys in order to elevate the status of women.” Gloria Steinem, journalist, activist and a nationally recognized leader for the American feminist movement, says, “A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
Unfortunately, the cynical nuances of modern feminism can incense both men and women. Sometimes when our male counterparts hear “feminist” they think women who hate men — anti-male or male bashing are other terms that come up in arguments, too. But the sentiment is the same, men can find it difficult to define their role with feminism or the feminist theory. Brian Klocke goes so far as to state, “Although I believe that men can be pro-feminist and anti-sexist, I do not believe we can be feminists in the strictest sense of the word in today’s society. Men, in this patriarchal system, cannot remove themselves from their power and privilege in relation to women.”
There will always be disparaging people using words as weapons, shielding themselves from the world with their keyboards or hiding behind antiquated beliefs. But there are honorable men among us who are secure in themselves and support women’s causes and the fight for equality. Klocke’s opinion (and the essay he wrote) are in fact proof that these men are not only there but asking questions and helping to educate others.
Remember I told you both men and women can be offended by the f-word? It’s true, there are some women who refuse to use the word feminism when it comes to describing themselves. And it’s all because of stereotypes and judgement.
Women’s History month is a great time to raise awareness and educate ourselves and our kids about the role of women in history. President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the week of March 8, 1980 to be National Women’s History Week, writing in his proclamation that the “achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”
The presidents who came to office after him continued to proclaim National Women’s History Week in March until 1987 when Congress passed Public Law 100-9, designating March as Women’s History Month. The 2022 theme is “Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope.” The theme, designated by the National Women’s History Alliance is “both a tribute to the ceaseless work of caregivers and frontline workers during this ongoing pandemic and also a recognition of the thousands of ways that women of all cultures have provided both healing and hope throughout history.”
Over 100 years have passed since women gained the right to vote. Last year, Kamala Harris became the first woman and first woman of color to hold the office as Vice President, rising higher in America’s leadership than any woman ever before. And while we’ve made huge strides for women’s rights and gender equality, there’s still work to be done — in our country and around the world.