Thursday, March 2, 2017

Women’s History Month Returneth

Note—I seem to have woken up channeling a Trumpling…
Well that was close!  The country just escaped the annual ordeal of Black History Month.  There should be an investigation of that.  Clearly a Barack Hussain Obama Muslim Commie Plot to bring this Great Country to its knees.  We have to endure those smug Black History Minutes on our TVs and other assaults on White goodness.
Now no sooner is that nightmare behind us than we discover the whole damn month of March is supposed to be given over to Women’s History!  Don’t get me wrong, I adore women.  Love ‘em to death!  I always open the door for Ladies and tip my Make America Great cap to them.  My sainted Mother was a woman and my wife—when she is not in one of her moods—is an angel on earth.  But lately it like Satan has taken possession of most of them!  They have forgotten their proper duty as obedient wives and pure daughters waiting to be the vessel of the race. 
A lot of the blame goes to this Women’s History Month which has filled their airy heads with ridiculous notions, holding up harpies and nags as heroines, and making examples of women pushing their way into the God-given realms of men.  The whole thing even started with those damn socialists and was pushed by the black helicopter crowd at the United Nations!  Look it up yourself.
I say we put an end to this now!  Let’s declare this White Man’s History Year.  It’s always been that way before.  Let’s make it official.  That’ll shut ‘em all up!
Phew!  That was exhausting and draining.  I can’t keep it up even in the tradition of internet snark.  Let’s play it straight now for a look back at the real origins of Women’s History month. 

The first Women's Day march grew out of the struggle of female garment and needle trade workers in 1909 and their Socialist allies.  It was the root of International Women's Day and eventually American Women's History month.
The loonytoon I was channeling got one thing right—we owe it to trade unionist and members of the Socialist Party in New York City who on February 28, 1909 organized a Women’s Day to celebrate the anniversaries of a garment workers’ strike the year before and a march by women in the needle trades for the 10 hour day back in 1857.  The event was such a success the Socialists made it an annual event and took it national the next year.  In 1911 the Socialist International took it up and spread it across Europe.  After the interruptions of all solidarity movements caused by World War I, the celebrations resumed and spread.  They were also adopted by the new Communist International (Comintern.)
In America, however, the post-war period was marked by a Red Scare and a wave of the greatest repression in U.S. history aimed squarely at Socialists, Communists, anarchists, and militant unionists.  Despite the long fought for victory of women’s suffrage in those same years, the mostly middle class women who had led the struggle did not want to identify their movement with the radicals.  Even as Women’s Day spread globally, its observance here was limited to a kind of labor ghetto.
It took decades to regain a foothold in this country spurred by the new wave of feminism in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s the rise of Women’s Study and History in the colleges and universities.  They got a boost in 1975 when the United Nations officially adopted International Women’s Day on March 8.
First to act were educators at the Sonoma, California school district in 1978 who added a Women’s History Week centered on International Women’s Day the official curriculum.  It mostly centered on age appropriate projects highlight leaders of the suffrage movement.  The press picked up the story and spread it.   Sonoma teachers spread the idea in state and regional conferences and by the next year school districts across the country were adopting or adapting the idea and curriculum.  

National Women’s History Project cofounders Molly Murphy MacGregor, the Sonoma County California educator who helped pioneer a National Women’s History Week curriculum on the left with Paula Hammet, Mary Ruthsdotter, and Maria Cuevas.

Sonoma’s Molly Murphy MacGregor brought the idea to a 15 day conference of the Women’s History Institute at Sara Lawrence College in September 1979 organized by Professor Gerda Lerner.  The idea of Women’s History week caught fire and Lerner became a vocal national spokesperson for creating an official national event.

President Jimmy Carter acted quickly.  In February of 1980 he proclaimed National Women’s History Week centered around National Women’s Day on March 8.  His proclamation read:
From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well. As Dr. Gerda Lerner has noted, “Women’s History is Women’s Right.” It is an essential and indispensable heritage from which we can draw pride, comfort, courage, and long-range vision. I ask my fellow Americans to recognize this heritage with appropriate activities during National Women’s History Week, March 2–8, 1980. I urge libraries, schools, and community organizations to focus their observances on the leaders who struggled for equality—Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Lucy Stone, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Harriet Tubman, and Alice Paul. Understanding the true history of our country will help us to comprehend the need for full equality under the law for all our people. This goal can be achieved by ratifying the 27th Amendment [Equal Rights Amendment] to the United States Constitution, which states that “Equality of Rights under the Law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”
School Districts, municipalities, and states began making proclamations.  Politicians of both political parties were eager to curry favor with the growing women’s movement realizing that women not only made up a majority of the electorate but also actually went to the polls significantly more often than men.  Even Carter’s explicit endorsement of the ERA was not then as partisan an issue as we might now believe.  Republican Party platforms from the 1920’s on had endorsed the ERA.  Many Republican women—and some male politicians—even supported the Roe v. Wade decision and reproductive choice.  In fact middle class suburban white women were a major force in the GOP.
Conservative icon Ronald Reagan was comfortable annually renewing Women’s History Week proclamations.  Republican First Ladies Betty Ford and Barbara Bush were both vocal supporters of the ERA, abortion rights, and other feminist issues.  Although not so vocal during her Born Again Christian husband’s Presidency, Laura Bush was known to hold similar views.
The non-partisan nature of support for women’s issues was illustrated when Utah Senator Orin Hatch and Maryland Democratic Representative Barbara Mikulski co-sponsored the first Joint Congressional Resolution proclaiming a Women’s History Week for March of 1992.

By the latter year Congressional Republicans were in full retreat on women’s issues as they became more and more beholden to the Religious Right who opposed both the ERA and reproductive choice.  From then on Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all resumed issuing Presidential proclamations. 
In recent years under the influence of the Tea Party  Congressional Republicans have abandoned virtually any semblance of supporting women’s rights and have become actively hostile to the point of prideful and open misogyny while Republicans in control of state legislatures propose ever more bizarre attacks on women.  The elevation of exposed sexual predator and open misogynist Donald Trump to the Presidency and his alliance with the hard core Religious Right has made transformation of the Republican Party into a bastion of White male privilege and hostility to women.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side the Obama administration initiated the landmark 2011 Women in America: Indicators of Social and Economic Well-Being report and advanced women’s causes and defended their interests via appointments and executive orders when Congress has blocked action.
The bitter and hard fought contest between  Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination last year largely centered on which candidate was best for women, and on if women owed their support to the possible first major party female presidential candidate.  There was a bitter and divisive split between older women and traditional feminist leaders on one hand and many younger, poorer women on that hot button issue.

Business and labor leaders were carefully chosen to balance the list of 2017 Women's History Month Honorees.

This year the theme of the 2017 National Women’s History Month harkens back to the origins of Women’s day in the Socialist and labor movements.  But the sponsoring National Women’s History Project (NWHP) was also careful to balance that by co-honoring business leaders.  That reflects the search for respectability by middle class feminists and their obsession with career advancement and the glass ceiling.  Thus the theme:  Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.

So the official honorees for the month carefully match labor leaders and radicals with hard charging executives and entrepreneurs.  Former Labor Secretary Alexis Herman is offset by former Commerce Secretary Barbara Hackman Franklin.  Anarchist and agitator Lucy Gonzales Parson and pioneer banker Maggie Lena Walker make a matched set of Black women.  Addie Wyatt, founder of national organizations of Black and Women Trade Unionists is offset by stockbroker Norma Yeager.  The lists go on, but you get the picture.

If I seem nit-picky in my annoyance, it’s not that I don’t think that the achievements of successful women in business are worthy of note or attention, but am saddened that leading feminists are still afraid that singling out the achievements of labor and radical figures will get them identified as some sort of commies on one hand and fear that it will alienate middle class supporters on the other.

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