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U of M community weighs in on Women's History Month

As Women’s History Month rolls back around, the question arises: in today’s feminist era, is the month even still relevant or needed? 

The Daily Helmsman spoke to a history professor, gender studies professor and University of Memphis students to see what they think. 

“We are half of the population, yet you have to actively seek out our history,” said historian and U of M history professor Dr. Cookie Woolner. 

Before this establishment in 1987, women had a day to celebrate their gender, which later became a week long celebration. This day celebration would become the first official week in March for feminist acknowledgment. 

Internationally, Women’s History Day is celebrated on March 8th. Immigrants and working class women brought the tradition into the states in the early 1900’s. Women’s History Week however, didn’t occur until 1978, in Sonoma County, California. 

Until that point, women were rarely discussed in the classroom. This was likely because in recorded history, women occupy only 0.5% of that space when compared to their male counterparts. The Education Task Force of the county declared the week, starting on March 8, as Women’s History Week. Teachers prepared special presentations and held essay contents for students. 

By 1987, after much campaigning from the National Women’s History Project, March was officially declared Women’s History Month by the U.S. Congress. 

According to Dr. Woolner, when we think of history, we typically think of presidents and others in positions of power, which typically are men. Many also think of major historical events. What we don’t often see, or study, is how the average person lived in that society or how they might have affected history. 

This, of course, includes women. 

“Not only is there a level of oppression evident in that historical movement, but also women’s participation in some of the most recognizable historical events are often downplayed or erased altogether,” said gender studies professor Elizabeth Grace Allen in an email exchange. “An excellent example of that is the way Black women’s role in advancing the early ways of the feminist movement in America is almost completely erased from our textbook retelling of those events.” 

However, it is not enough to say women were erased from the narrative. According to historian Dr. Woolner, there have been many different types of women throughout history. Professor Allen, a gender studies professor, says that we have to examine these differences, race, economics, sexuality, etc. to view how their role in history was downplayed. 

If we do not, then we risk erasing even more women. 

Professor Allen originally wanted to go into gender studies because she wanted to learn about ideologies that challenged the status quo. As she got further into her degree, she realized she had other reasons for studying gender. 

“There are so many disparities when it comes to gender and everything is connected to gender: it’s important that we all examine how those got there, so we can work at chipping them away,” Allen said. 

But in today’s time and age, is Women’s History Month still important? In a poll, conducted on Instagram, 67% said that the month was important, 8% said it wasn’t, and 25% said they didn’t hold an opinion. 

So, it would seem that, at least for now, the majority and the experts and students deem the month important to study and learn about. 

“I hope you take the time to appreciate and value the women in your life," Woolner said.

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