If you want firsthand knowledge about what it was like to live before the 2nd Women’s Movement, ask a woman who lived through it. I asked my mom. During childhood, we get bits and pieces of our parents’ stories, and the significance of the details increase as we age; perhaps because we imagine what they were like as we reach certain thresholds of adult life. Drastic changes in our lives are like demarcation lines. On one side of the line is “before,” and on the other side is “after.” Perhaps “before” for you is before you landed your great first job, or before your heart was broken the first time. Perhaps “after” for you is the accomplishment of a life goal, or after the loss of a loved one. The “befores” and “afters” are moments in time that we remember, forever. “Before” for my mom was the moment she was told she couldn’t work in her job anymore because she was pregnant. The company said they were afraid she’d fall. She was a typist. The year: 1951. To this day, she feels resentment at being sent home very early in her pregnancy. Away she went…months before the birth of her first child. My parents needed both incomes; thus, this was a blow to the family budget. But that’s how it was back then…before. Before the advancement of women’s rights.
March is Women’s History Month. Whenever a whole month is dedicated to recognize the accomplishments of a segment of the population, this tells us that group has been ignored, oppressed, their voices silenced. Some wonder, do we need to set aside a special month? How about we talk about their accomplishments all year round? That would be great! However, the track record shows that this doesn’t happen. For example, the Nobel Prize has been awarded to 870 individuals between 1901 and 2015. Of those, 48 were women. The first: Marie Curie (who also a 2nd Nobel Prize). The youngest: Malala Yousafzai. How many others can you name?
I had the honor of having my mom at one of my book talks for Women’s History Month a few weeks ago. She brought up the history of Maria Montessori, the first female to qualify as a doctor in Italy (1896), who was forced to give up her son because she refused to get married, and who went on to revolutionize the education of children around the world. (Thank you, Mom!) Other “firsts” in the M.D. world include Susan La Flesche Picotte, the 1st female Native American doctor (1899) and Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the 1st African American female doctor (1863). Who was the first male doctor? I’m guessing you’ve heard of Hippocrates and the Hippocratic oath...?
I recommend taking the opportunity to talk to those who lived “before.” By honoring (and remembering) history, we see the trajectory of society and culture…where we started, how far we’ve come, and the path that continues to lead toward enhanced social justice for all.