Living History

womenshistory

March is Women’s History Month, which makes me want to give a shout out to—well, just about every woman I know.  Before I started this blog, Women’s History Month brought to mind black and white pictures, the evidence of things accomplished long ago.  And it still does.  But these days, history has a pulse for me—it is something that surrounds me, buoys me up, that stirs me and drives me.  History was a century ago and fifty years ago and last year and yesterday.  History is in the books, but it’s also on my dining room table.

There, next to the newspaper, lies an envelope my mom sent me last week—an envelope chockfull of women’s histories, of stories that range from Egypt to my hometown.  Because my mom sent these articles to me, they feel personal—these words meant something to my mom, and she knew they would mean something to me.  Here’s what the packet contains:

  • A recent Washington Post article by Sally Quinn about the blue bra an Egyptian woman was wearing under her abaya as she was beaten by the military, and the power that bra represents.
  • A review of the book A Strange Stirring:  The Feminine Mystique and American Women at the Dawn of the 1960s (The book is by Stephanie Coontz, the review by Elaine Showalter).
  • A humorous article from Gene Weingarten of The Washington Post Magazine mocking Texas’s new law requiring sonograms before abortions.
  • An article from the 1970s about Virginia Delegate Clinton Miller, who made sexist jokes at an all-male Rotary Club luncheon in my hometown of Harrisonburg, mocking the Equal Rights Amendment by making it clear that a woman’s place was barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. My mom sent, to accompany this, a note saying that she remembered when the Rotary Club finally allowed women.

As I was reading these pieces, I thought about my mom’s personal stories of misogyny—the boss who sexually harassed her, the professor who disapproved of her desire to write about The Feminine Mystique.  And I thought about my own history, the slow dawning in my life of the concept that I’d bought a bogus line about the sexual revolution accomplishing equality.

So I thought about transformational history, yes—but also local history, family history, personal history.

Because it is in the local, in the personal, that history matters most.

I sit here, in a house with my name on the deed, writing about gender inequality in a room of my own.  The children who sometimes interrupt my work and my sleep and my thoughts only do so because I chose to bring them into this world.  The fact that I can write those two sentences makes me one of the most privileged women ever to have lived.  One of the most privileged women currently living on this planet.

That doesn’t mean we can stick a fork in history and call it done.  Far from it.

We are at a point in American history at which we teeter on a dangerous precipice—a place of choice and consequence.  Mine is the first generation of women to reap both the benefits and the pain of the sexual revolution, but it isn’t the last.  We are currently bungling sex and gender so badly that it is hurting our young people, our bodies, our psyches.  We need to stop, so that future generations of women can write:

I love my body, every inch of it, because of what she can do.  I love her because she is mine.  It would never occur to me to feel otherwise.

Or

I have never seen the president in a bikini, real or digital, because no one would dream of disrespecting her by objectifying her body.

Or

I have no children—I never wanted them, and no one has ever made me feel strange about that choice, or ashamed of it in any way.  (However, I sure do like sex.  And it’s no business of yours who I like to have it with.  Moving along…) No, no kids for me.  I have dedicated my life to my career—and I make just as much as my male coworkers.

Future generations deserve those sentences.  And the other women on this planet who cannot claim the sentences that I can deserve to claim them.

So today, in honor of Women’s History Month, I give a shout-out to us all—those who have gone before, those who struggle now, and those who will write sentences we can only imagine.  Happy Women’s History month, y’all.

Now go hug your mama or your aunt or grandmother or sister or best friend or wife.  You know she’s put up with some crap about being a woman in one way or another, and she deserves a hug.  We all do.

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