Today’s topic was supposed to be a cheerful little roundup of important dates in women’s history. Seneca Falls, probably, and the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.
I did start a list, but it was kind of obnoxious. It began with 1519 and the arrival of Cortes in the New World. It included 1807, the year it became illegal to import human cargo into the United States. And let’s not forget 1960, when The Pill was approved for contraceptive use. I could also throw in 1964, 1348, 1517, 1972, 1858, 1440, 1798—and I can justify all of them. And tons more.
But I’m not big on dates. Dates traditionally scare most people away from history. They’re nice because they mark the slow–often agonizingly slow–march of human progress. They let us know we’re on track to invent the future because the present sucks pretty hard. And that’s a reassuring thought.
But then I realized my obnoxious list is obnoxious for a reason.
The idea of “Women’s History Month” doesn’t sit right with me. It gives the misleading impression that women’s history is about women and therefore important to women, but Real History is about men* and therefore important to everyone.
All the dates on my obnoxious little list had real and meaningful impact on women, and that makes these events women’s history. The problem is–and always has been–which narratives get recorded, privileged, and shared (or imposed), and consequently develop that shiny patina of legitimacy.
The problem is–and always has been–who gets to decide what counts as history.
This is the one reason I like Women’s History Month. It’s brought up the discussion. It’s shined a nice bright light on omissions, gaps, and outright erasures. It’s made us question received narratives and demand something deeper, something more reflective of human lived experience.
Let’s keep up the good work, shall we? Let’s keep questioning what history is and what it ought to be. Let’s keep making history better.
*Usually (but not necessarily) white European and/or American men, but that’s a-whole-nother post.