Where are the women?

Where are the women?

Why we must include half the world’s population in accounts of human existence

By Ellen Snortland 03/11/2014

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The people who got February designated as Black History Month in 1976 deserve big kudos. Broadcasters, banks, even carwashes have gotten on the bandwagon.  

Awareness that March is Women’s History Month? Not so good for women of all colors. 

Even conscientious women and men who are focused on social justice are often unaware that March is an annual event that pays tribute to women who have changed our world. Indeed, women have always changed our world. However, as the quote of unknown origin — and commonly attributed to Winston Churchill — goes, “History is written by the victors.” That is somewhat of a big, fat “duh,” and was probably originally said by “anonymous,” the appellation usually belonging to a woman.

Many of my longstanding readers are aware that I am the voice that pipes up every year with, “Where are the women?” “What are you doing to commemorate Women’s History Month this year?” “Why would you care about including women and girls in history at all?”

Let me tell you why I think you need to care about including half the world’s population in our accounts of the history of human existence. First of all, it’s the polite thing to do. To exclude the history and accomplishments of half the world — the female half — is to perpetuate disrespect, marginalization and violence against women which diminishes all of us, including the male half.

As the author of “Beauty Bites Beast,” and now the upcoming book “The Safety Godmothers” co-authored with Lisa Gaeta, I have immersed myself in the world of violence prevention. Although I am against violence toward anyone, I am particularly appalled at the rates of violence aimed at females: over the course of a lifetime, one in three women will be attacked by a man! I see the entrenched belief that men and boys are superior to women and girls as one of the core causes of this violence.

One of the many ways we continue to regard men as better than women is to exclude women from our historical accounts and, by extension, our entertainment and news. We need more Joss Whedon and Lake Bell types in Hollywood. After all, a lot of our stories come from history. And today’s news is tomorrow’s history. How is this linked to violence? If women’s stories are ignored and forgotten, “she” appears to be less than a “he” and not as valuable. If we only value a “her” for her sexuality, and disregard her contributions as a person beyond her gender, it’s an easy slide toward treating her badly.

As it is, by pinning a female’s inherent value on her decorative potential and femininity — sexy, nice, innocent, or easy to coerce — it’s basically like hanging chum on her back and waiting for the sharks to bite. Our young women are damned if they do want to be sexually regarded and damned if they don’t. Meanwhile, we as a society put a lot of energy into making our girls behave like “ladies,” which is a euphemism for “passive.” What is more passive than chum? We have many societal ways of making our boys more masculine — unfeeling, forceful, superior, demanding; in other words, ruthlessly active. Do we really wonder why so many of our boys rape and torment others? We celebrate the “sharks” among us in history and in our entertainment and continue to dangle women and girls as bait.

If you’re tired of this, you can help bring Women’s History Month into its rightful place on the March celebration calendar, and I’m just the gal to help. I am a Goodwill Ambassador for the National Women’s History Project. nwhp.org. Go there and you’ll get a snootful of activities. Meanwhile, here are just a few of the March activities we have going on locally. I would love to see you at some of them!

Ray Eames in the Spotlight (To May 4) — Ray, the female half of the famous Ray and Charles Eames team, is highlighted at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design. For hours and information, visit williamsgallery.net/ray.

YWCA Pasadena Visions of the Past, Inspiration for the Future: Women of the Civil Rights Movement (Ongoing through March) — A special photo gallery of women who made a huge difference. A special appointment must be made to see photos by Boyd Lewis. Contact Jessica Kubel, community relations manager, (626) 296-8433, or via email at jkubel@ywca-pasadena.org.

Women’s History Month Party (Thursday, March 13) — I will be a guest speaker at the event, which is from 7 to 9 p.m.  For details and tickets, visit 5050Leadership.org

She Had a Dream (Saturday, March 22) — A free special Women’s History Month event at the Allendale Branch Library curated by me and featuring a screening of filmmaker Jennifer Lee’s “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation,” and comments by Dr. Lois Banner, author of “Marilyn: The Passion and the Paradox,” a feminist biography of Marilyn Monroe. For more information, call (626) 744-7260 or visit pasadenapubliclibrary.net. 

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Thanks for your column, Ellen. Any way we could honor Julia Morgan's YWCA before they renovate? Too late? What a treasure .

posted by LanceDavis on 3/18/14 @ 11:21 a.m.
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