A very happy International Day of the Girl to you!! (That’s #IDOTF for all you Tweeters out there…)
Today, October 11, 2014, marks the third annual Day of the Girl, designated as such by the United Nations in recognition of the need to invest in and empower women and girls everywhere for the creation of a better world. Want a 30 second summary of what IDOTF is and why it’s so important? Check out Because I am a Girl Canada’s video here.
For the past few days I have been thinking long and hard about what to post in honour of this girl-power day. History is absolutely filled with awesome girls whose actions continue to affect us today, from rulers like Hatshepsut and Elizabeth I who shaped empires, to freedom fighters like Rosa Parks and the suffragettes, to trailblazers like Sacagawea and Florence Nightingale. But I only have a few hundred words here – definitely not enough to do justice to the many incredible women of history!
Then I came across Leigh Ann Wheeler’s TEDx talk on “Why Women’s History Matters.” Of course the title immediately grabbed my attention, but it was my surprise at one of her first statements that really hooked me: “It’s also appropriate that I speak to you today because March is Women’s History Month. It’s also inappropriate that I speak to you today because I hate Women’s History Month.” Wheeler goes on with her criticism, explaining that “what Women’s History Month tends to celebrate is great women, defined as women who have accomplished things that men have long considered important, or defined as women who have been married to great men.” And I realized, she is absolutely right! When I think of women in history, I think of those who were visible, powerful, privileged, extraordinary… Of course their stories are valuable and inspiring additions to the ongoing narrative of women, but where are the others? What about the 99% of women who lived ordinary lives in ordinary times? They too had voices, perhaps more difficult to hear, but well worth listening to; they too had stories that, though not famous, have so much to teach us.
I will let Wheeler’s awesome talk speak for itself (no pun intended…), especially her powerful closing remarks, remarks that I love so much that I’ve written them out below. They remind us that while history teaches us about the lives of others, it also forces us to reexamine our own lives and gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.
“Women’s history shows us how normal people, people just like us who simply lived in a different time, shows us how they thought about and experienced their lives, in ways that are different than the way that we think about and experience our lives. It shows us human possibilities that get closed down when we assume that the way things are now is natural, timeless, and unchangeable. It shows us that we, each and every one of us, are products of history, but we’re also agents of history. Whether we’re first ladies, movement leaders, homemakers, waitresses, factory workers, teachers, or students, we’re all making history every day, the well-behaved and the less well-behaved among us. I believe that women’s history can change the world; I know it changed mine.”