Women’s History Month: increased mobilization and learning from the past
BY Senior Reporter
This March, and every one since 1988, is Women’s History Month.
According to Marie Laberge, a professor in the university’s Department of Women and Gender Studies, the push to increase awareness of women’s history in the public sphere began in the early 1970s. Before then, women’s history was severely undercovered, if covered at all, in history classrooms across the country.
In 1981, Congress passed a resolution calling on President Ronald Reagan to establish Women’s History Week on March 7 the following year, through a presidential proclamation.
That system continued annually until 1987, when Congress passed another resolution, which designated March 1987 as the first Women’s History Month. That continued until 1994, after which the sitting President began issuing an annual proclamation on their own each March.
President Donald J. Trump’s proclamation this year dictated his reasoning for doing so.
“This month, we honor women who have fought for equality and against the status quo, and who have broken the bonds of discrimination, partiality, and injustice for the benefit of all,” Trump said. “These women created a legacy that continues to inspire generations of women to live with confidence, to have a positive impact on their communities, and to improve our Nation every single day.”
This year’s celebration of women’s history also comes at a time of increased mobilization for activists and everyday citizens who are concerned about many societal issues, especially the frequency of sexual misconduct and domestic violence.
“I don’t think its because the violence is happening more, its because more people are coming forward and speaking up, and that is a good thing,” Laberge said.
Movements like the #MeToo movement have been a major part of the nation’s discourse over the past few years. In addition, the first Women’s March took place the day after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, when millions protested in many cities across the world. The marches have continued annually since then.
“Obviously the Trump administration is not great news for many, many marginalized identities, but one silver lining … is that the administration has really mobilized a lot of people… [and] get them civically engaged, and I think that is a very powerful thing,” Kelly James, a university senior and the president of Students Acting for Gender Equity, (SAGE) said.
SAGE is an organization focused on intersectional feminism and advocacy and making sure that people of all genders and identities feel safe and valued, according to James.
This past midterm election cycle also saw a record number of women elected to Congress. Currently, 25 women serve in the Senate and 106 serve in the House of Representatives.
“I like to believe that those marches and that mobilization are making a difference, and certainly, the most recent election has shown some of that, and I think some of that momentum is still going on,” Laberge said.
James also spoke on the political scene on the state level in Delaware, specifically. The Delaware General Assembly has codified the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and recently added the Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, which ensures equal treatment on the basis of sex.
On the other hand, a few anti-abortion bills have been proposed by minority Republicans. Those bills have no chance of passage in Delaware, but symbolize the ideological division on how to solve several complex issues around the country.
“It’s great to see Delaware take steps to implement positive policy, and I’m super happy to see them do that, but it’s also important to be aware of potentially dangerous policies that are implemented on that state level as well,” James said.
On-campus activities are ways to bring attention to important issues and to progress that has been made, but also to keep increasing awareness for work that still needs to be done.
For example, this year, the university’s 33rd Annual Women’s History Month Film Series is titled “Heroic Women of Our Time” and includes five documentaries about a diverse group of women trailblazers and corresponding speakers who can provide historical context. The final screening will be of the 2018 movie “Bombshell” on March 18 in Kirkbride 004.
“Bombshell” follows the story of Hedy Lamarr and her invention of a covert communications system to fight Nazi Germany in World War II. The significance of her invention was only fully realized decades later and was brushed off at the time because she was female.
SAGE is also hosting an event during this Women’s History Month.
On March 28, they are partnering with the American Association of University Women to host Kerri Evelyn Harris as part of series that brought Valerie Biden Owens to campus last year. Harris challenged Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) in a primary election this past year. During her lecture, she will discuss her experience navigating the political system as a newcomer and her post-election advocacy.
James highlighted the value of not just studying past history, but jumping off of what we have learned in order to make more progress on issues that matter.
“It’s important to learn from history, and value history but also build off of that [history],” James said.