Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Women's History or Our History?

Originally Posted in the Common Threads Blog
Centre Daily Times, March 25, 2008

It is March again, and time for another Women’s History Month.

This whole month, schools, colleges, and organizations plan special events to celebrate our focus on women’s realities.

My daughter, who is in fourth grade, has been designing postage stamps along with her classmates, that celebrate women’s achievements. She finally settled on a “Women Save the Earth” theme, focusing on Rachel Carson’s pioneering Silent Spring,that first elaborated how the chemicals we put out into the world seep into our environment. Her classmates focused on many other achievements by women in space, and other frontiers.

Celebrating these pioneers of the past is important for fostering our leaders of the future. It is also important to celebrate ordinary women, who are creating small improvements in the present time, by following their dreams and performing their duties, changing our collective landscape, one step at a time.

On the first day of spring break, my daughter and her friend got to meet one such present day ordinary woman - as they climbed aboard an FA-18 Navy Fighter plane at University Park Airport. They got to ask a lot of questions of the female pilot, one of the two people in the two seater plane, and learn about her job - of both piloting the plane, and dropping the missiles.

The peace-loving part of me was happy that my daughter did not like the “missile dropping part,” but loved the “piloting part” of the job. And I could sense the enormous impact that interacting with this woman had on the two nine year old girls - it expanded the possibilities of women’s roles in their eyes. And I know she would have had the same enormous impact on nine year old boys too.

I thought of that pilot yesterday, as I heard that the US death toll in Iraq has reached 4000. Of these, 95 were women, 2% of the total death toll, which is small compared to the 50:50 male female ratio in the real world, but is the largest death toll of women in any war since WWII.

These deaths of female soldiers are a part of Women’s history, and Men’s history, as much as the deaths of male soldiers are a part of both histories. For each of these soldiers has a family of men and women, whose lives and realities are unalterably changed by the deaths of their loved ones.

Ultimately, celebrating the history of women in March is a useful exercise, if we remember this history is just a vital subset of our collective history – and that if we focus on it throughout the year, we will not need to set aside a special month to celebrate and reflect on it.

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