It happens every year: On Valentine’s Day, while people celebrate, the naysayers appear. “It’s a made-up holiday; every day should be Valentine’s Day with your love.”
It happens again on Mother’s Day. “It’s a made-up holiday, every day should be Mother’s Day.”
Maybe it’s because my own mother was a Mother’s Day denier and Dad was just happy to have cake and ice cream in his honor, but I can’t recall ever hearing it on Father’s Day. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t said.
Why? We humans are very good at recognizing warm celebrations by dumping a glass of ice water on the joy.
Here’s the thing: Every holiday is a made up at some point.
Memorial Day? Made up after the Civil War, the meaning changed a bit after World War I and didn’t get its last Monday in May legal day until 1971.
Labor Day? Made-up back in 1885; made Congress Official in 1894.
Christmas Day isn’t even when Jesus was born, but whenever we feel a made-up holiday is celebration-worthy someone is waiting to dump figurative water on us.
That’s why, when March 1 rolled around and Women’s History Month began, I opened my figurative umbrella ready for the critics.
“Until Women’s History Month recognizes that women of color continued to be excluded from the historical narrative for many years…I won’t acknowledge the celebration.”
“Why do we celebrate this? Aren’t we marginalizing women farther by celebrating them for only one month?”
“Isn’t the primary tenant of feminism for all people to be treated equally — so isn’t women’s history unnecessary? History encompasses women.”
I agree with the first one; it’s true. I will say that any advances in society are not made as leaps, but as steps up: One builds a base for the next. Even the wording of the 19th Amendment, The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex had the base of the step ripped out when states excluded women of color by not acknowledging their citizenship.
I agree that these hard-to-hear parts of history need to be taught everywhere, at every opportunity; I’ll take that splash of water.
But the last two? I have a long rebuttal for that begins, “Women were marginalized for most of history, and yet our fore-sisters contributed greatly in the face of huge obstacles. Those contributions were left out of our history lessons for generations. We need this month to shine a spotlight on them.”
This March, I’m celebrating.
I’m celebrating women through time from all over the world who left their mark on society.
I’m celebrating the women who were brave, strong and smart; women who saw a need for change and did something about it.
I’m celebrating little girls who wear, “Smart is the new pretty” T-shirts. I’m celebrating men who agree.
I’m celebrating Hatshepsut and Cleopatra; Eleanor of Aquitaine and Eleanor Roosevelt; Queen Elizabeth 1 and Queen Nzinga; Empress Wu Zetian, Empress Adelaide, Empress Catherine and all the women who impressed themselves upon history deep enough to leave a mark.
I’m celebrating suffragists including Lucretia Mott, Sojourner Truth, Matilda Jocelyn Gage, Lucy Stone and a very long list of others whose names are not as well-known as Susan B. Anthony (who I’ll also celebrate because I’m a big fan.)
I’ll celebrate for all of us whose life paths are made strong by the lessons learned from the women of the past.
And, if necessary, I’ll stand under a figurative umbrella when I do.
Susan Vollenweider lives in the Northland. To learn more about some of the women mentioned in this column and more who have lessons for everyone, listen to the podcast she co-hosts The History Chicks at www.thehistorychicks.com.