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Elizabeth Debold

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Women's History Month? What About 'Women Making History Month'?

Posted: 03/12/2012 2:20 pm

March is Women's History Month. Doesn't that sound dreadfully boring, like some required course from college? These thirty-one days actually commemorate women's courageous struggles for self-determination and justice, but with that almost academic label on it, it all seems rather, well, passé. History, obviously, is all in the past. So, what if we re-named March "Women Making History Month"? Because this month in 2012, we certainly have some history-making to do.

These placid and well-intentioned commemorations blunt the restless spirit that we are supposed to be celebrating. It's the same with International Women's Day, March 8. We note this day in history because of a series of revolts in the first decade of the 20th century by women garment workers who went on strike against brutal working conditions. In the former Soviet bloc countries, this day morphed from being a rallying cry against "kitchen slavery" to something akin to Mother's Day -- with cards and flowers and all. Worldwide it's gone from gritty rebellion to a pastel day of reflection and appreciation. Over time, as we place these events safely behind us in the distant past, we forget that the ferocity that those women expressed against the inhuman, oppressive, and unjust is our own.

Since the 1970s when the UN took it on, International Women's Day has transformed again, focusing on women in the developed world and helping our sisters in developing countries. No doubt that this is important, particularly given how privileged many educated women in the West are. But I wonder whether we can really revolutionize women's lives worldwide without continuing to follow in the footsteps of our rebellious foresisters.

This March 2012 is a month to make history. In fact, women -- particularly Gen X women who have been told all of their lives that we are living in a post-feminist world -- are waking up. No wonder; there's a lot that has been troubling women's sleep for years now. The work-family balance that is supposed to make our lives possible would be a laughable illusion, but most of us are too tired to laugh. No one really bats an eye at the trash talk thrown at women who lead in public -- it's even part of the news. At younger and younger ages girls are figuring out that their only worth is in their "hotness," no matter what parents have to say about all the options they have for the future. Our sons are figuring out how to have relationships with girls and what manhood means using the internet and online games as their tutors. So is it any wonder that birth control hearings with no women present, a state-enforced unnecessary ultrasound wand and Rush Limbaugh's vile sputum directed at a bright, thoughtful young woman law student have reverberated in women's consciousness like an alarm?

The allegedly "post-feminist" world that we are living in is far from a world of dignity, respect, and equality between the sexes. How can we bring real hope to the women around the world who are suffering material deprivation if our culture so consistently expresses such callous disregard for women? We have an opportunity here, this month, to ignite a fire. Perhaps Sandra Fluke could be this generation's Rosa Parks -- an intelligent, sensitive and savvy young woman who had enough. The context, of course, is very different. We women can sit wherever we want on the bus, but who wants to get on if the ride is paid for in abuse and disrespect?

Our fight now is for the higher values that ennoble our personal freedoms, so that they don't get played out in a context that is fundamentally demeaning. Of course, as the women who have fought before us demonstrate, no one can take one's dignity or self-respect away. But in the face of those who would demean us and other women, we have to protect our self-respect ferociously. This month, March 2012, can be another turning point in women's history. Today can be the moment when, out of respect for the women who have gone before us and with hope for the women who will come after us, women shoulder the responsibility, cultivate the ferocity, and carry the vision to create a culture -- in business, politics, and media -- of true human equality based in mutual respect.

 

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