In 1987, March was declared National Women’s History Month, corresponding with International Women’s Day, which fell on March 8. Women’s History Month is designed to be a time when Americans to look back on the accomplishments of women, to look forward to future of gender equality and to look at what we can do in the present to reach that future.
Back when Women’s History Month was first created, the Supreme Court had just decided that sexual harassment was a form of job discrimination, gender stereotypes were being bent for the first time with Aretha Franklin being the first woman inducted into the rock ‘n’ roll hall of fame, and women were being paid 74.2 percent of what men were.
A lot has changed since the late 1980s.
In 2016, Defense Secretary Ash Carter finalized the movement to open all military roles to women under the same criteria as male applicants, Hillary Clinton became the first female presidential nominee to make the presidential election, and in 2015 women made 79.6 percent of what men make.
So with all of these changes in favor of gender equality in the United States, why should we still celebrate women’s history month?
Well, although we have come a long way since 1987, we have never had a female secretary of defense, a female president or vice president, and the gender pay gap is still at 20.4 percent.
Rebekah Benjamin, professor of psychology ay Huntington, pointed out that although gender equality in the workforce has come a long way, pregnancy still plays a huge role for enforcing gender inequality and stereotypes. Many companies do not offer paid maternity leave and employers often choose not to put women into position of power within the company if they are aware that the woman hopes to have child any time in the near future.
Kaylea Hendrickson, an HU student, expecting mother and news reporter of FDN News, has noticed that, despite all the advances in women’s equality, pregnancy is still often considered to be a disadvantage and a hindrance to prospective employers.
“I think we as a country have come really far in gender equality,” Hendrickson said. “In a way, I wonder if we have come so far that it is now looked down on to be or to want to be a mom. When interviewing for jobs I am reluctant to mention my true passion for family because I am afraid that I might be passed up due to putting my family before my job.”
Benjamin agrees that there should be respect for all women, regardless of whether they want to choose to pursue a career or to pursue the more traditional role of a mother — or both.
“[We need to] respect stay at home moms and women who desire more traditional roles,” Benjamin said.
But National Women’s Month is not just about middle-class white American women. It extends to all women of all backgrounds in all situations.
Linnea Glas, a film production student here at HU, commented that, in addition to the rights that are often fought for in the mainstream discussions, any discussion of women’s rights should include those in minoritized positions as well. Many indigenous women are facing problems with basic rights to things such as clean water and protected lands, and women of color face their own challenges, as well.
“A lot of white women are focusing on equal pay, but there are other problems that women of color face … like not coming forward [when abused] for fear of being deported or being seen as liars,” Glas said.
Perhaps it is time as a society to change our approach to Women’s History Month.
When asked why we should still celebrate women’s history month, Mary Ruthi, professor of sociology at HU, said that we have been cerebrating men every day for so long that it’s time for a change and to recognize the accomplishments of women throughout history.
“[It is] good to look back at women in the past like sufferettes who pushed for women’s rights to vote … women who have excelled in various careers — just to celebrate them,” Ruthi said.
Ruthi also stated that we must remember that taking time to celebrate women and their accomplishments is not a way to diminish the role of men in history.
“[It is not about] disliking or putting down men,” Ruthi said. “Maybe we will have truly reached gender equality when we have a month too celebrate men’s accomplishments too.”
Perhaps when that day comes, we will be celebrating women every day just as we celebrate men every day now.