Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Why I'm Ambivalent About Women's History Month

March is Women's History Month. Eventually, it would be nice to be able to do away with it.

Women's History Month serves a purpose in foregrounding women's history and thus helping educators to brush up on histories they might otherwise overlook. But the goal of that attention is to mainstream this history--to make it easier and more natural to include the lives of women and their historical influence into the curriculum.

But these efforts have to be sincere, and they have to be useful. We feminist scholars and educators have a duty to use Women's History Month to include women in our syllabi and our lectures, and then to keep including them, even in months where we don't get the reminder.

What doesn't work is to focus attention on women in a way that can be used to further belittle, marginalize, or trivialize. Because by calling out women for special treatment, we're already taking the risk of reinforcing the beliefs that people come with--so the occasion has to be used effectively to redirect or change those beliefs, not re-entrench them.

In my last post, I mentioned that the Women's and Gender Studies Program on my campus was celebrating International Women's Day. They've also celebrated Women's History Month--by sending around a homemade image to all faculty and staff with the suggestion that we use it for our "desktop wallpaper" during the month of March.

It is a composite image of 6 of what I take to be their ideas of prominent and influential women in history:
  1. Queen Elizabeth I (nice start)
  2. Frida Kalho (well, OK)
  3. Harriet Tubman (so far, so good)
  4. Oprah Winfrey (judge for yourself)
  5. Marge Simpson (blue hair and so influential! DOH!)
  6. a busty image of Eve (SEDUCTRESS!!! ORIGINAL SIN!!!)
It is a 72KB file, it is not sized to fit my screen, and it uses the Comic Sans font.

I could not make this stuff up.


Nick said...

Oh my god. Oh. My. God.

Anonymous said...

You know, you'd think an institution full of brilliant minds wouldn't be capable of something so moronic.