05 March 2010


It happens every March, and formally starting in the U.S. in 1987 -- Women's History Month. And think how belatedly !!!! Throughout this country and throughout the world, fully half the human population has been oppressed, disenfranchised and unrecognized. It took the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920, fully 144 years after the start of the American Revolution, for women to achieve the fundamental right to vote. Throughout history, women have achieved brilliance fully equal to men in all endeavors, even when the law and custom repressed their efforts.

I was fortunate to get my degree at the University of Arizona, which offered one of the earliest and best Women's Studies (WS) programs, at that time under the energetic direction of Myra Dinnerstein. For a time, WS was my declared minor -- until a change of major (Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) required a shift in minor to match and chemistry. My time in WS was illuminating, not merely for the course content -- Women In American History, Women In Literature, Women In Philosophy stand out in my memory -- but also because as a male, I was in a distinct minority in all classes. At the time, men made up roughly ten percent of feminists, and ten percent of WS class members. Uniformly, the WS professors welcomed male students. However there was some discomfort and some outright hostility directed toward the men by some women students. I fully understand why -- at last here was a program and set of courses taught by women, about women, for women, yet here were these upstart men horning in, like they always seem to do. Or so the thinking went. I didn't take it personally -- if anything, it gave me a window into exactly the sort of treatment women and other minorities experience on a daily basis -- in the workplace, in higher education. Every man should have the opportunity to experience the rejection and oppression which men have for centuries heaped upon women. The world might benefit.

When I taught high school classes in suburban Philadelphia, among a faculty evenly split between men and women, I was always the first to bring up Women's History Month each March -- and the first to organize student projects to research and learn more about women's achievement. It was always an eye-opener for teachers and students alike, but especially empowering for the female students. It sent tingles down my spine to see their eyes light up with pride as they read out loud their reports on pioneer women aviators (Jackie Cochran), social workers (Jane Addams), writers (Jane Austen, Pearl S. Buck), poets (Maya Angelou), physicists (Marie Curie), anthropologists (Margaret Mead), field biologists (Jane Goodall), science theoreticians (Lynn Margulis), birth control activists (Margaret Sanger), abolitionists (Sojourner Truth), civil rights activists (Rosa Parks), journalists (Gloria Steinem), astronauts (Mae Jemison), and yes, heads of state (Golda Meir). These, above and beyond the names of musicians, actors and other artists which come more readily to the minds of most people. The inspiring list goes on and on.

The glass ceiling is a bit higher these days, but it still exists. Women (and other minorities) must still assert not only their ability but their RIGHT to the same jobs for the same pay as men. They still must fight for equal recognition in the arts, the sciences, and in personal relationships. In some countries women are still treated as property. All that is changing for the better, slowly. Thankfully the women in my son's generation face a slightly easier struggle, and the girls in my grandson's generation slightly easier still.

For all of us, it is both useful and necessary to pay homage to those who went before. In March, to all those women (and men) who sacrificed and fought so that women (and men) in future generations might lead more balanced, integrated lives ...... I honor you.

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