Happy Women’s History Month … Where Are All the Women?

TEXTBOOKToday marks the end of March, and thus, the close of yet another Women’s History Month. I guess I should be excited that we get 31 whole days to celebrate the myriad contributions to society by our foremothers, but I’m just not. I’m bitter.

I won’t bore you with arguments about why every day should be women’s history day, or a list of ways women continue to be slighted.  Instead, let’s talk about history books—specifically the history books (or holographic digital curricula or brain implants or whatever) that our great-great-grandchildren will be reading in 50 years.

Earlier this month Duke University released a multimedia project highlighting the lost voices of women in philosophy. Although the renaissance was populated by female thinkers, some of whom inspired men who became famous for their work, the names of the women are never spoken in classrooms today.

The fault here lies not with the historians or professors of today. Most of them rely on texts written decades if not centuries ago. Women’s disappearance from history is a failing by those who recorded it as it was happening.

What are we missing today? When we document the achievements of mankind, which women end up on the cutting room floor, destined to be footnotes in obscure textbooks?

Is it Janet Wolfenbarger, the US Air Force’s first female 4-star general? Is it Mary Barra, CEO of GM and the first woman to lead a major automaker? Those two were in the last few years. Did you know the director at CERN is Fabiola Gianotti, a woman known for her work looking for the Higgs? Many of the scientists who launched the project to land a probe on a comet were women, yet when it made contact, who did we hear from? A man. Who had naked women on his shirt.

Tomorrow’s history is today’s news. And for women the news isn’t good. According to the Women’s Media Institute, men are quoted 3.4 times more often than women on the front of the New York Times. More than 64% of guests on Sunday morning talk shows are white men, and newsrooms—paper, radio, and TV, are still majority male.

What’s to be done? Both UNC and Duke are hosting women’s Wikipedia edit-a-thons, designed to bring the massive online free encyclopedia a little closer to gender parity. (87% of Wikipedia editors are male) The Smithsonian is also planning a women-in-science edit-a-thon, which will hopefully bring those articles up to date.

But editing articles is just triage. Women’s actions must be recorded as they happen. We must celebrate the achievements of our sisters as they happen, and raise women’s accomplishments to a level equal to men’s. We must encourage women to be historians, news reporters, and philosophers so that they may document the progress of our gender. We must refuse to be overlooked, or written off, or to allow history to repeat itself in forgetting our names once again.




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