Celebrating History Can Inspire Us to Make it

05/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Maria Shriver Award-winning journalist, bestselling author and leading Alzheimer’s advocate

March is Women's History Month all over the country, but the idea for it started in California 32 years ago.

No surprise, since our state and our women have been at the leading edge of innovation in so many areas of American life. In the last six years, we've upped the ante by celebrating, honoring, and highlighting the lives and work of the extraordinary women in our state.

In that spirit, I will be welcoming Californians of all ages to The California Museum in Sacramento today for a special event honoring women's history month. We're calling it A Day at The Museum, and the free, all-day celebration will give people a chance to meet and learn from some of California's most successful and inspirational women, including Astronaut Sally Ride, Lisa Ling, Rita Moreno, Erin Brockovich, Iron Chef Cat Cora, Speaker Emeritus Karen Bass, Secretary of State Debra Bowen, and many more. We're having celebrity book signings, film screenings, musical performances, chef demonstrations, panels, and art exhibits.

Since becoming California's first lady, I've been gratified to learn about the many extraordinary, trailblazing women who've helped shape our state and our country with their powerful voices, their brilliant minds, their compassionate hearts. My office has worked to shine a bright light on them. We transformed the California Museum into the California Museum for Women, History, and the Arts, showcasing legendary women from Amelia Earhart to Elizabeth Taylor, from Billie Jean King to Alice Walker. We started the California Hall of Fame to recognize women -- and men -- who've done so much to lead and inspire us. We created The Minerva Awards to honor and reward remarkable women whose courage, wisdom, and strength are changing California and the world.

I know I've been on the right track focusing on women, because our yearly Women's Conference has become the premier forum for women seeking information and inspiration. Attendance has swelled to 25,000 women seeking ideas for starting up a business, caring for aging parents, managing finances, balancing work and family, finding time for volunteering and spirituality. It's quite a scene: 25,000 women networking, negotiating, and navigating the complicated landscape of California life today.

Listening to women's concerns at the Conference made me wonder about this hunger for information and answers. So last year, in partnership with the social scientists at the Center for American Progress, we released The Shriver Report: A Women's Nation Changes Everything. It came at a truly transformational moment, because for the first time, fully half of the American workforce is female, and mothers are now primary breadwinners in nearly half of American families. That's a sea change that's happened over the last several decades, accelerating into a tsunami during the current recession, when most of the jobs lost have been men's jobs. We examined the impact on the economy, the workplace, the family, men, and every American cultural institution.

We found plenty of plenty of good news. Women are more educated than ever before, now earning 60 percent of the college degrees awarded each year and fully half of the PhDs. Women are also running more businesses than ever before. Last year they were at the helm of ten million small businesses with combined sales of more than a trillion dollars.

But the whole truth is harsher. Women still don't have pay equity with men. Women still aren't equally represented in top leadership positions in business and government. Workplace policies haven't changed to meet the needs of women who are not only primary breadwinners, but often primary caregivers, too. In this day and age, so many women, many of them single parents, are struggling mightily.

The overarching message I took away from The Shriver Report is that the engine of history is turning, but for too many women, it's turning too slowly. Let's help push pay inequity and other forms of inequality where they belong, back into the past to stay.

Here in California, where Women's History Month began, my message to women is: let's keep on making history.