Women's History Month - tribute or travesty?

Written and re-written. Edited and re-edited. Slashed and tweaked. That’s what I’ve done to this post, and it’s still not quite right. But, Women’s History Month is coming to a close, and I was hoping to solidify some thoughts about this month-long observance of…of what, exactly?

This might be controversial, but here it is: I’m thinking Women’s History Month, and other such tributes, trivializes the whole fight and plight of not just women, but of all humans who are and have been victims of oppression.

I don’t come to you armed with much research outside of reading a myriad of quotes from a lot of women I’ve never heard of, and from Madonna. And I did this Google search: “Embarrassed by Women’s History Month.” Not a lot came up, but I did find an article on The Atlantic’s website that nicely sums up, and is much more articulate than the jumble of thoughts in my head, what I feel about this month of recognition:

“…setting aside a month to honor women—or Blacks or Jewish Americans or Asian Pacific Americans or any other of countless honorees—is a two-sided coin: The honor it bestows marks, yet also perpetuates, their marginalization. Perhaps no harm and a little good can be done with a month-long commemoration. But on the face of human history, Women’s History Month is not a beauty mark, but a scar. It is a sign of past hurt and continued healing.” – Karen Swallow Prior

Oh, another search for “Men’s History Month” turned up nothing. No one’s surprised, right?

Karma bites me in the ass

Let me be clear: I don’t hate men. I’m surrounded by men, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. These men I have loved or not, struggled with, had screaming matches with, called names, wanted to bitch slap, spent hours talking to and laughing with, and tried to understand. Of course, that’s a two-way street. Plenty of men have felt the same way about me. But, these men, and all the women in my life, have made the ride worthwhile. Because of these souls, and in some cases in spite of them, I’ve come to be a pretty independent woman…I mean…person.

I’m certain I was a man in a previous life, and I’m certain I executed reprehensible deeds against women in that life. Or maybe it was more than one previous life, which would explain the karma that came for me with both barrels blazing.

I have a father with a huge heart, and who’d do anything for me and for my son – in fact, he’d do anything for most people. He has a lot of opinions (yes, yes, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree). Sometimes we go toe-to-toe, screaming, slamming doors, pointing fingers. Oh yeah, it can get ugly. There’s never a winner in these battles because we’re both so sure we’re right. But, Dad never fails to tell me that he’s proud of me for standing up for myself. While standing up for myself against him is surely a double-edged sword for the guy, it’s gotta be done. I’m pretty sure he knows that.

This is something I often say to my son: Think for yourself. I’ve been saying it to him since he was in day care. It’s my way of reminding him to not follow the pack, to not give in to peer pressure. I think the advice has served him pretty well as he’s been fairly trouble-free, at least when it comes to Big Trouble. But, every now and then, I see him living those words. I usually recognize it when kiddo and I are arguing – just like when I stand up for myself with my dad, kiddo is standing up for himself with me. I don’t think this is history repeating itself, but rather that damned karma. When I cool down after those arguments, I’m pretty proud of my kid.

Having a son (hello, karma!) has softened me intellectually and emotionally when it comes to my views on men. Wanting equality, now more than ever because my son lives in the here and now, I work much harder for understanding and perspective. I don’t want reparations for everyone’s past sins. What good will that do? Instead, I wish for and work for equality for all. A lot of days, I’m going to fail at that lofty goal, but for my son and for all your sons, I want to do better.

You won’t be shocked when I tell you I take issue with authority, rules, and politics. I’ve had a number of male bosses who have underpaid me, hushed me, held me down. Some male co-workers have harassed me and made derogatory remarks about everything from the John Kerry bumper sticker on my car to my intelligence to my looks. When I was pregnant with kiddo, a male counterpart continually called me mom – until I politely and with humor asked him to stop. After that, he wouldn’t look at me or speak to me again.

The organization I just left is run by a small council made up of VPs, directors, and the CEO. Only 2 out of 13 of those people are woman. That group was recently boiled down to an executive council. Not one woman sits on it. Not. One.

These examples are just a couple in a list of dozens of real and perceived transgressions and offenses against little ol’ female me. When I look at them here, they seem inconsequential. However, it’s been since my teens that I’ve witnessed boys and men rise to the top, get away with shit that most woman can’t – and when women do push their way through, well, there’re a number of names applied and smaller paychecks for those vaginas who breach the glass ceiling.

But, let me not dwell on just the men I’ve had the pleasure and displeasure of dealing with. Plenty of women have worked to tear down me or other female co-workers. They’ve nastily undermined and side swiped those of us women who are trying to work together to improve our lots. I’ve never understood when a sister would rather throw another women to the wolves instead of extending a hand to pull her out of the reach of those fangs. When I was reading quotes, I found this from Madeleine Albright:

“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

I’ve paid my dues in the workplace, as have most of you. I’ve made copies and coffee. Picked up lunch and ran shitty errands for bosses. Smiled as I’ve been demeaned and condescended to. I figured it was all a means to an end, and have tried hard to make my own rules along the way. In the workplace, I pushed back when the demands became unrealistic, learned to speak up when I was treated unfairly, mentored younger female staff, and asked for raises, which I sometimes received.

There’s no doubt there’s still inequality in the workplace. Women’s wages aren’t the same as men’s. Men are still more likely to be promoted over women. Sexual harassment is more prevalent than I’d like to believe. Less important, but somehow equally maddening, is that it wasn’t until a couple of years ago, my previous employer got rid of the policy that women must wear pantyhose with skirts and dresses (it’s still strongly encouraged – I’d like to see a man squeeze himself into hose for a full 12 hours then still strongly encourage such lunacy). I have a friend with a PhD whose patients call her by her first name and exclaim she’s a smart cookie. Her male counterparts are called Dr. Whatever and no one questions their ability to earn a higher degree. A couple of those examples are expected and a couple weaker and random, but you get the idea.

It’s safe to say, many men pay their dues, too. But the price for men doesn’t seem so steep or so ridiculous. I’m willing to admit it might just be my sensitivities and female filter. I’m also willing to own my experiences and be accountable for my missteps. Some things I could have handled more gracefully and with less anger. A couple of times I should have called an attorney.

In the end, all I can do is to continue to shoulder my way through the difficult situations with humor, integrity, and strength. But you should know, when I have a particularly ugly encounter with a male colleague I say a silent apology to the women I mistreated in those previous lives where I was clearly a pimp, wife beater, or pirate who kept his wench chained to his ship’s bed.

Making history

Don’t think I’m not interested in women’s history. I don’t mean to diminish or dismiss the effort, energy, and emotion women before me invested into the cause. I didn’t live in a time where I had to fight for the right to vote, the right to choose, or the right to not wear a corset. I do respect the fight, and am thankful for it because I now live in a world where it’s acceptable (or nearly) for me to take birth control, go to war, or to kiss another woman in public. Hell, if I’d taken a different path, I could have been president of the U. S. of A. That’s some good fight from those who came before me.

I left a job recently. One I took a lot of satisfaction in up until the last year or so. A female colleague is the reason I finally chose to leave. This woman has so much male energy I question what she’s really packing in those elastic-waisted slacks of hers. Anyway, as senior staff member in my department, I worked with 3 twenty-something-year-old women. All 3 are very bright, but still learning their way around the workplace. That female colleague is a bulldozer. Having raised children herself, I’d have thought her more in touch with the schedule and demands of working moms – let alone the quandaries of women working in a male-dominated workplace – but she wasn’t.

Relying on my 20+ years experience in the work force, advice from trusted colleagues, and my gut, I was able to navigate those troubles with this person, and to help my co-workers figure out ways to deal with her. There were a lot of tears in my office over the last several weeks – sometimes even my own. Tears turned quickly to anger and frustration, and my co-workers and I pressed forward – using all the appropriate channels – with trying to affect change. Obviously, our passion to make change didn’t come to fruition or I’d still be there. But I did fight hard, they fought hard, and it was uncomfortable and scary. Though change didn’t happen now, the fight continues. This is how I know.

On my last day at work, 2 of the 3 younger women on staff thanked me for helping them learn how to set boundaries. In so many words they told me I helped them find their voices. This pleases me. You can’t buy confidence and bravery. Silence is easy. Standing up for your truth is hard, and the fight is often lost. But in the morning you can look at yourself in the mirror and know you did what could be done. Female or male, you fought the fight.

It’s About People, Not About Gender

Greed, envy, power, and fear eat away at men and women – and I believe those four monsters are blind to gender. How some of us can walk the tight rope of right and wrong while fighting away those evil predators escapes me. I can’t always do it, but the older I get, the harder I try.

I tend to worship rule breakers, envelope pushers, and pot stirrers – troublemakers who blast boundaries into the stratosphere and live and fight for new perspectives and ways of thinking. I love King of All Media Howard Stern as much as I love that force of Blonde Ambition herself, Madonna. I respect Martin Luther King, Jr., just as I do Gloria Steinem, Steve Jobs, JFK, Rosa Parks, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa.

So, while it’s taken me a while to land on these final thoughts, and I thank you for hanging in there with me while I sorted it out, I believe this is what I wanted to say all along…

Men, women, and children of all colors, religions, weights, sexual orientation, you name it, are oppressed all the time in this country and in others. While I am indebted to those who fought to further my rights, those fighters weren’t just women. Does it matter so much what was between their legs, or what’s between yours and mine? I’d like to think what matters most is what we have between our ears and in our hearts.

While I don’t need a special month to celebrate the history of women, or of humankind, I do thank, from the depths of my heart, all my sisters and brothers who fought – and continue to fight – for what’s right for all of us.