Around the County

Women: Missing in history

By Pat Stuart
Posted 3/23/21

It’s Women’s History Month. Who knew? But what a great concept.

I’ve often wondered how much different the world would be if my generation had known that women’s …

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Around the County

Women: Missing in history

Posted

It’s Women’s History Month. Who knew? But what a great concept.

I’ve often wondered how much different the world would be if my generation had known that women’s contributions to society could extend beyond those required in the family, if we’d known that history (reality not the written variety that I studied as a history major) has been crammed with exceptional women.

How much richer everyone’s lives — both men and women — might be now if women still didn’t find it necessary to spend most of our energy navigating through or around glass ceilings or reinventing our particular wheels. My generation didn’t know that. In fact, we’re only learning now, as women in substantial numbers are moving into nontraditional roles, that our contributions raise the level for everyone.

It’s the yin and yang thing. Everything can work better when seemingly opposite forces are put together. 

Still, we discourage our young women from using their talents and encourage young men to think them less capable, less courageous, less everything. We continue to stuff our children in a gender-negative hole. That’s the one lined in shades of pink and imprinted with the phrase, “Women can’t.” It might as well be one word: womencant and it’s plural, womencants.

Womencant be fighting soldiers.

Womencant be corporate leaders.

Think about the womencants close to home. Walk into a garage, stop to get your oil changed, hire a carpenter, bring in a plumber ... do you see women? Yet, does anyone seriously think that there aren’t as many women as men capable of doing those jobs?

Maybe. 

I think it’s that gender hole. Climb out of it or try and you’re seen as an outlier, as “not quite right,” as an anomaly, a weirdo. That’s peer and social pressure on steroids. It takes determination, guts, and drive to buck the norm. On the other hand, it also effectively discourages too many women from excelling or ... oh, dear ... actually becoming the ones who write the history books.

My mother knew all about stereotypes. She went through the motions of being a perfect housewife but was a Rosy the Riveter in the Portland shipyards during World War II, built her own 1,200 square foot cabin, and did a bit of farming. Her advice to me? “You can do anything you put your mind to, Patty. And if anyone tries to stop you, just smile and keep on going.”

Maybe it wasn’t the best advice in the world. Certainly, some of the things I set my mind to ended up a cropper. Like my incredibly bad golf swing. “You can do anything ...” echoed in my head, and I kept bashing long after the golf pros had given up on me. But it wasn’t all bad. During the aftermath of one nasty coup and again in the first Gulf War, my lousy swings smashed many a ball into the roughs of empty golf courses. My clubs may not have won games, but they did a great job at working off frustration, anger and, yes, fear.

I diverge.

Certainly, I’d have been better off if I’d followed the part about smiling. But remembering to smile while being told you’re being passed over for promotion one more time and the promotion list includes men with a fraction of your accomplishments? Smile? I don’t think so. Never happen.

But things are better. Women now have mentors. Women have role models. My daughter wrote in a recent blog: 

“As the daughter of a single working mother who was herself a leader, I thought that her amazing generation had cracked all the gender barriers during the late 60s and early 70s. ... As a young adult I boldly stepped into the field of engineering and was shocked to learn that ... I was one of only two women in my post-graduate program.”

She’s been fighting glass ceilings ever since. But she knew those barriers weren’t impenetrable.

Other than having mentors, women had begun to creep into the histories she read. She and her friends know that womencants are simply societal constructs. They believe at a gut level that womencan.

That’s what I think Women’s History Month is all about. Telling the stories for future generations; giving women the confidence that womencan. It’s that yin and yang thing. Together we’re not just better, but America and the world will be better places when society actively allows both genders to work at their best. 

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