By Maegen Ortiz
It is time to get radical about Women’s History Month, observed this month.
Radical, by definition, means going to the root or origin of something.
The roots of Women’s History Month are planted in International Working Women’s Day, observed on March 8th.
When Women’s Day was first celebrated, before it had formal recognition from any government, it was a protest movement. In the early 20th century women working in the garment factories in cities like New York and Chicago held strikes to protest long hours and unsafe working conditions that threatened their health and lives.
In Russia and parts of Europe women protested against the violence of the Russian Revolution and World War I.
Last Monday marked 100 years since suffragists marched on Washington D.C. demanding women’s right to vote.
The National Women’s History Project successfully lobbied the U.S. Congress to first designate March 8 as International Women’s Day in 1980 and in 1987 designate March as Women’s History Month.
The current ways of celebrating Women’s History Month are a far cry from these roots.
The day now is one to remember the actions of women leaders of the past as if there is no current work to do.
Countries around the world celebrate International Women’s Day today and today, poor conditions for women continue. Whether working to get good grades in college, working to raise a family or working outside the home, there is still discrimination and inequality. Women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts. The wage gap is even larger for women of color. War continues today. There are actual military interventions around the world where rape is used as a weapon. There are economic wars threatening safety net programs like food stamps so that women cannot feed themselves or their children.
While it is important to know history in order to not repeat past mistakes and build upon the past, Women’s History Month should be a call for individuals to take action.
This means moving beyond reflection and acknowledging that the personal is the political.
This means moving beyond liking something on Facebook or signing an online petition.
This means expanding the idea of what makes something a women’s issue.
This means not just thinking about job equity and defining reproductive rights only as access to safe and legal abortions.
It means thinking about how the label woman is defined and currently is used to dismiss women of color and transgender women like author Janet Mock who recently released her book “Redefining Realness”.
It means looking at the work of organizations such as Incite!, a network of radical feminists of color working to end violence against women, gender non-conforming, and trans people of color.
It means defining violence against women beyond sexual assault and thinking about how prison expansion, immigration policies, and war harm families.
The theme of this year’s National Women’s History Month is Celebrating Women of Character, Courage, and Commitment. The best way to celebrate the character and courage of the past is to stand on the shoulders that have come before and commit to taking action now. That way, the next generation of women does not have to stand on anything except her own two feet.