We Don't Need Women's History Month — We Need to Improve Our Teaching Of Influential Women
With the end of Black History Month comes the beginning of National Women’s History Month. In May, there is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, and in June, LGBT Pride Month. While designated months like these may have been created with good intentions to spread awareness, they ultimately fall flat and at worst come across as insulting. We don't need need months to teach us about the individuals who inspire them. Instead, they should be returned to the classrooms, where they can receive attention all year.
The idea that the impact of a minority group’s history should be and can be blended into a single month is, in the words of Morgan Freeman, “ridiculous.”
During a 2005 interview on 60 Minutes with Mike Wallace, Freeman’s quote, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” As is women’s history and all of the other histories outside of what is majorly taught — white, male, and Euro-centric history. More importantly, what needs to be addressed is the influence that such bias can hold over children — from elementary to high school. There's an excess of arguments that exist pointing out the flaws of the American education system in comparison to top systems in the world that include South Korea and Finland. But outside of the systematic component lies the ideological. What we are taught at a young age can shape our views permanently — and the choice in belief versus disbelief may not always be explicit.
From every facet of history I studied before college — from American history to world history, and even basic government and politics (various male figures dominating each branch), all followed the same pattern. There wasn’t much consideration to anything else outside that spectrum. In a sea of famous male faces and figures, there was always a mere paragraph, page, or tiny cropped photo that addressed the works of Deborah Sampson or Harriet Tubman.
Constant exposure, I now realize, lead me to unconsciously believe that because these female figures weren’t showcased as prominently in my readings or by my teachers, women as a whole weren’t important in the rise of the United States. My love of reading and researching outside of the classroom gradually taught me otherwise. It wasn’t that history’s women were unimportant; it was the fact that there was little time in the curriculum as a whole to go in-depth discussing their achievements. It really wasn’t until college where I had to option to take courses that specifically taught women’s histories that included the likes of Africa and Asia. Even then, the availability of those courses show that in any other given history course, the tales of Sacagawea, Marie Curie, Susan B. Anthony, and Sandra Day O’Connor could go undiscovered.
To render the need for a women’s history month useless, the education system needs to devote the proper time and space for it in elementary, middle, and high school curricula. One way of accomplishing this is through social media and the like. Computers along with other technological resources in the classroom are more widespread than ever before. That suggests there is more access to the internet, and when used appropriately, it can make for a valuable tool.
PBS and AOL recently released a documentary titled Makers: Women Who Make America. The documentary takes traces of the past and weaves them into narratives of the present, a tactic millennials in the classroom can relate to. The documentary gives notice to less famous heroines like Kathrine Switzer and big name figures such as Oprah and Ellen DeGeneres.
With the addition of material similar to this, students will be that more attuned to history from different perspectives, perspectives that prevent youth from growing up with false ingrained assumptions like I once did.