Opinion | Op-eds

The death of Women's History Month

Tucked away in a corner of Barnard Hall is a small piece of women’s history—and it is highly likely that generations of Barnard and Columbia students have unknowingly walked past this small museum for years.

The boxes that line the shelves of the Barnard Center for Research on Women’s humble library are filled with colorful posters, periodicals, pamphlets, and plenty of unpublished papers. While digging through this treasure trove can be a bit dusty, the reward is well worth the effort. The archives transport you back to a time when Vietnam was making headlines, a typewriter pumped out a 20-page thesis, and the issue of sexual harassment—now depicted in period dramas like “Mad Men”—was very much a reality.

But even digging through these dusty tombs can be unsatisfying. As useful as these sources are, very few are from before 1970. This archive only accounts for the past 40 years of women’s history. What about everything that happened before?

Thinking back to those U.S. history textbooks we all had in the seventh grade, it’s hard to remember more than a chapter devoted to the lives of women. Judging only from those textbooks, it would appear that, every hundred years or so, a brilliant woman came around and revolutionized medicine, technology, or politics. They were always the exceptions and never the rule. The farther back in time we went, the harder it was to get any sense of how Simone de Beauvoir’s “second sex” lived.

While it is well known that the Brontë sisters both wrote under pen names in the 19th century to hide their identities, protect their reputations, and increase their chances of being published, it is surprising to many that our generation’s own beloved J.K. Rowling did the very same. Rowling used the initials “J.K.” instead of Joanne, her full first name. Although it is unclear whether this was her own doing or the creation of her publisher, Bloomsbury, it is evident that the reasoning behind it is no different than that of the Brontë sisters: a fear that men would not purchase her book knowing that it was written by a woman.

With so many obstacles facing women even today, it’s hard to imagine how women as far back as the Renaissance had the courage to break the boundaries separating them from the literary world. Of the few surviving texts written by women, many are in the form of diaries and letters. With the exception of a few casual poems written for pleasure, almost everything else we have from that era was written by men. Why is it that we know so much about Shakespeare and so very little about the 17th-century dramatist Aphra Behn?

Time travel in the search of the feminine is essentially a search for a needle in a haystack. Eventually, we are forced to learn about those voiceless women through the words of loud and often authoritative men. We never hear the other side of history, the one from the mouths of women.
It is this lack of knowledge that is at the heart of Women’s History Month. This month is not a time to dismiss men, but rather a time to acknowledge women. It is a time to assert the importance of giving women a voice with which to tell their own stories and to recognize the value of the untainted truth. The history we study today was written by those who came before us. We, too, have the duty to provide future generations with the most unbiased and pure documentation of historical events possible.

But as crucial as Women’s History Month is for both our generation and the next, the fact that we even have to have a specific month devoted to the study of the role of women in history speaks volumes on the miles we have yet to go. Successful, outspoken, and courageous women surround us here at Barnard and Columbia, and it is safe to say that, unlike what our middle school textbooks suggest, there will be more than one brilliant woman remembered from our century.

Women’s History Month celebrates both these women and the generations of women whose stories have not yet been told. But, at the same time, I can only hope for a day when there will be no need for a Women’s History Month and the relics housed in the BCRW archives will be solemn reminders of a time when women had to fight to be remembered. The voices of women from the past will finally be heard.

The author is a Barnard College junior majoring in English. She is a research assistant in the Barnard Center for Research on Women.


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crespin79 posted on

Nicely written...some thoughts on women:

Men and women should operate as a team, both within a corporate environment and outside one with synergy in mind. Members of either gender should not feel threatened by the presence or performance of the opposite sex. What we need is a positive approach to life and business in an attempt to increase personal, corporate, national, and international welfare.
The social, cultural, and political attitudes of modern society have enabled women to seize some power from men, despite being treated unfairly by unethical leaders, who continue to reinforce the "glass ceiling" and, in some cases, despite having to leave the workforce due to family considerations, and then return a few years later. Women understand that fruitful conversations promote sound business relationships and teamwork, thus contributing to an improvement in the bottom line.
Women are usually well organized: they manage a dual career, as homemakers and professional employees. Women often regard their fellow employees as family and take time to ascertain their personal needs. Hence, they can sometimes be taken undue advantage of. Competition is strange to most women because they were groomed for caring, rather than winning!

Fay Weldon, a writer, stated, “Worry less about what other people think of you, and more about what you think about them.” A former mayor of Ottawa once said, “Whatever women do, they must do twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult!”

When women start to follow in the footsteps of many men, by being intoxicated by power, they lose their identity and bearings. Women should focus on a diplomatic approach and learn how to exude self-confidence while maintaining self-respect and deal with the competition without being intimidated or taken undue advantage of.

Women who achieve powerful positions in the corporate world may be subjected to personal and professional attacks because of their gender. Independent women are strong, fearless, and in control of their homes, families, emotions, and their working environment. They tackle problems with a heads-on approach, being steadfast in their pursuit of success and happiness.

I have a policy of distributing free abridged versions of my books on leadership, ethics, teamwork, motivation, women, bullying and sexual harassment, trade unions, business law, etc., to anyone who sends a request to crespin79@hotmail.com.

Maxwell Pinto, Business Author

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