Tuesday 22 March 2016

Women’s History Month

It's my pleasure to welcome Naomi of the fantastic Sheroes of History to the salon today to chat about Women's History Month!


Thank you very much for having me, I hope you will indulge me as I share some thoughts on Women’s History Month.

It’s a rather novel idea that the history of half the human race be squeezed into a specific month – where do we find them the rest of the year? Where indeed? That’s the problem isn’t it? 
I often find myself in a quandary when Women’s History Month (WHM) rolls around each year; on the one hand it’s a fantastic opportunity to have an amplified platform to shout about the incredible stories of women who might quite happily go unheard of the rest of the year, on the other hand I worry that people tick their ‘Women’s History’ check box in March (and respectively black history, LGBT history & disability history etc in their allotted 30 day periods) and don’t see the benefit of, or the need for, giving these stories equal amplification the rest of the year.
I started Sheroes of History, a women’s history blog, to try and increase the visibility of women’s stories in my little corner of the internet. Through the blog and storytelling work I’m trying to make sure that women’s history becomes history, standard. 
The reason we have a ‘special’ month is the same reason I started Sheroes of History. Our run of the mill, day to day history – be it in a history book, in a science class or on a TV documentary, is still overwhelmingly male (throw in white and straight too why not?) This video released by English Heritage for WHM shows how much the names of historical women don’t roll off the tongue of many a member of the public. It’s no wonder is it? In much of the past men had more opportunity, more freedom and therefore more success – and when their female contemporaries did have success, more often than not the men still took credit for it. So now when we learn about the past, we tend to learn about men’s past, told the way men recorded it and have to make an extra effort to find the women. I promise you that when you start looking you’ll notice; you’ll notice the absence of their faces and their stories. 
Believe me, after two years of writing and editing the Sheroes of History blog I can tell you that there is a bottomless well of fabulous women to discover. Women who contributed to the sciences and the arts; to maths and engineering; women who labored for social justice, carving out the liberties we enjoy today; women who were fearsome warriors and steadfast pacifists; women whose lives we should know about! We’re doing ourselves a disservice by overlooking their stories.
Why does it matter? Well, my main motivation for trying to balance the scales is that if we don’t we perpetuate the imbalance. When all we see is white men doing any particular thing, it creates the suggestion that it’s only men that can, or should, be doing that particular thing. We only have to look around us to see how these stereotypes are still stupidly ingrained. Changing representation in our histories isn’t the entire solution, but it’s certainly part of it. 
When I tell the story of Lily Parr, a super star footballer who played for enormous crowds to young girls who only ever see men’s playing on the TV; or the stories of Bessie Coleman and Jackie Cochran – daring female pilots who easily bested the men, against the stark backdrop of the paltry 3-5% of pilots who are female today, it plants a seed, sets an example and a precedent. If we could manage to consistently do this in schools, in the media, in books and films – imagine the impact we might have. I think there’s a lot to be said for the phrase ‘if you can’t see it you can’t be it’; and while obviously there are exceptions to this (I’d say most of the Sheroes on the blog prove this), we’d make it a whole lot easier to create a more equal future if we reflected a more equal past.
So, Women’s History Month. Do we need it? Yes, unequivocally, yes. Let’s sing, shout, dance and make a huge, grand affair of it, let’s make it so everywhere people turn they see something about the amazing heroines of the past and the amazing things they did. But when 31st March comes around, let’s not stop there. Let’s make women’s history (and, I have to point out, the histories of other marginalized groups, for which all of the same arguments can be made) a part of our narratives all year round.

If you want to be a part of doing just that then why not contribute a piece to the Sheroes of History blog? We’re always looking for submissions; just pick an inspiring woman who you think people ought to know about. If you’re interested or want to more drop me an email at sheroesofhistory@gmail.com 

Sheroes of History is a weekly women’s history blog telling the stories of historical heroines.
Twitter: @SheroesHistory

Written content of this post copyright © Sheroes of History, 2016.

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