Originally Published on March 30, 2010, in The Centre Daily Times.
The intriguing and ambitious theme for this year's Women's History Month is "Writing Women Back into History." Commemorating this theme could mean different things to different people.
To some, it will mean highlighting women who have succeeded in the public arena by honoring pioneers in politics, sports, science, medicine, arts, literature, public service, government and other domains in the world outside the home. Most people would not contest the place of these eminent women in the recorded annals of history.
To others, celebrating this theme will mean recording the contributions of women in both the public and private spheres. They will write women back into history by accepting the notion that our history is more than the history of conquests or the governing of countries and includes human experience in the public and private realms.
In addition to honoring women in nontraditional roles, they will honor women’s contributions in traditional historic roles as midwives and healers, mothers, farmers, inventors, philosophers, weavers, storytellers, environmentalists, religious leaders, elders, warriors, nurturers, caretakers, wives and daughters. They will recognize women’s pivotal role in nurturing humankind and sustaining traditions that have ensured the survival of our species to this day.
Of course, who gets written back into history depends on the point of view of specific historians and what they consider significant enough to be recorded as history.
Consider the recent example of a video “A Brief History of Pretty Much Everything” that went viral on You Tube a few months ago, with 2.2 million views. Created by Jamie Bell, from the U.K., it illustrates the history of our planet from creation to modern times and chronicles the rise and fall of species and civilizations.
His well-made, entertaining video is a testimony to his hard work and creativity, and earned him an A grade. Yet this17-year-old did not include a single woman in his brief history of pretty much everything. Even more troubling is that this omission of more than half the world’s population is lost on many of the video’s admirers.
The absence of women in Bell’s video is not surprising because including women is still an afterthought in many scenarios around the globe.
For me, writing women back into history requires the same mind-set of respect and sensitivity that made it possible for women to finally, in February, serve on U.S. submarines or to pass the 1990 law requiring women to be included in all federally funded medical research and clinical trials or to start blind auditions for musicians in the 1970s.
Writing women back into history will also mean honoring the contributions of women in our personal histories. For me, it means valuing the role of my homemaker grandmothers as much as the role of my grandfathers, who are identified and valued for the jobs they did outside the home.
It means acknowledging the work my grandmothers did in raising large families and their skills as counselors, financial planners, businesswomen, healers and keepers of history.
We all need to be active witnesses to the myriad ways in which women contribute in today’s world both inside and outside the home, even as we continue the work needed to allow every woman the right to self determination, to live a life free from violence, be head of a household, vote, drive or ride a bicycle.
Writing women back into history allows us the expanding opportunity of recognizing women’s history as part of our collective history and of accepting women’s issues as human issues.
It could also foster recognition of the importance of what is traditionally considered “women’s work” and expand it to be “men’s work” too in today’s world.
If men and women view women’s work and history as our collective legacy, it would be a phenomenal return on the minimal investment of one month focused on almost 50 percent of the population.