Last month we celebrated the 97th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. While this was a special day to commemorate the historical work of early women suffragists, it should also serve as a reminder for all that is left to do.
Growing up in the United States we all took our history classes that taught us about the historical achievements of men. We learned about Sir Isaac Newton, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King Jr. We learned about the monumental battles that men fought to protect our independence. We learned about the revolutionary work of past Presidents and we were even taught about bands, such as The Beatles, who kick started political movements. We all got our fill on men’s history, and sure, we did learn about Rosa Parks, Amelia Earhart, Helen Keller, and Harriet Tubman, but after interning at the Women’s Museum of California, I have to wonder, where are all the other ladies at?
As an intern at the Women’s Museum of California, I have had the opportunity to learn about all of the unsung achievements of women. I’ve learned about how the Women’s movement often coincides with other social movements such as the Abolitionist movement, the Civil Rights movement, the Environmental movement, and the LGBTQ movement. I’ve made timelines and written blog posts about inspiring women like Margaret Sanger, who illegally promoted contraception in an attempt to save women and lessen poverty rates. I’ve been fortunate enough to talk to guests of the museum who have stressed the importance of women’s history and how much we need people to recognize this history. One of the guests that I talked to actually quizzed me on whether or not the Equal Rights Amendment was ever ratified? Thankfully, I knew that the Equal Rights Amendments had been passed but never ratified, but as the guest pointed out, many people in my generation think that the Equal Rights Amendment is in place.
The conversation that I had with this guest revealed a major problem to me. The problem is that many people in my generation, as well as generations’ prior, have been robbed of women’s history. We’ve learned about certain women and how they were “participants” in larger male-led movements, but we’ve never fully dove into how women have been active members of history since the dawn of time. As members of a world that is 49.5% female, our history books are doing a disservice to all the people out there who deserve an accurate depiction of our history. When women are not represented in our textbooks, we are creating a harmful perception that women did not achieve much of anything except for the passage of the 19th Amendment. The dissolution of women from history is so unhealthy for men and women because it teaches gender inferiority.
Leaving women out of most of our history books is also problematic because it takes away all of the role models that women can look up to. For many women, I think that they only look up to their female friends and family, because they lack female role models in their textbooks. I know that I personally have learned how to be a woman from the women who are close to me, rather than the few women I have learned about in history class. While it has been a pleasure to learn and grow from all of the women in my life, I would have loved to see women reflected in my textbooks. Men have been fortunate enough to learn how to be great men through the men in their lives as well as the notable men in their textbooks; it’s time we give women the chance to do the same.
Holly Kemble, Women’s Museum of California Intern