Why We Sadly Still Need Women’s History Month and What It Means to Me
In my career, I have enjoyed the good fortune of being honored multiple times as a Woman of Achievement, Woman of Accomplishment, Woman Making a Difference, etc.; I have been on many lists of the top women lawyers and top women leaders. For each of those honors and more, I am extraordinarily grateful.
And yet, I’ve been on so many top women’s lists that it frustrates me because I believe there should never be a women’s list. We don't have a man’s list because, frankly, every list is a man's list.
I look forward to the day when there will not be a need to have a top women’s list, a woman of valor list, a woman of influence list, or a woman of achievement list. But until that day, I will celebrate and honor every woman on each of them until there will be no more need for those specific lists.
It may sound provocative, but I honestly feel the same about Women’s History Month that I might think about Black History, Hispanic History, or Gay Pride if I had the agency to do so. I do not, and I certainly intend no disrespect nor wish to criticize those celebrations. My thinking – please trust me – is less provocative.
In setting aside these months as extraordinary, we may be undermining the importance of recognizing the needs of these groups throughout the rest of the year. In calling these distinct groups out especially, we are calling attention to people who are too often perceived as different and, sadly, historically seen as less than others. That greatly upsets me.
Isn’t everybody different in the end, and aren’t our differences our collective strength? Our strength as a community, a culture, and a nation is rooted in our diversity.
Despite our ongoing struggles, our great country was founded as a big melting pot, and we should continue celebrating our differences. But sadly, that’s not the reality we live in, and until we have better equity and inclusion, we must promote diversity aggressively. I’ll end my rant with the fact that there should be no need for a particular month for any one group of humans. But while we perceive these still are needed, we should extend these meaningful and educational history and pride celebrations all year round!
For Strong Women, I Look No Further Than My Family!
With all that said, I want to share that I believe strongly in acknowledging and celebrating strong women in our lives. After all, how can we pay it forward if we don’t show gratitude for those who paved the way for us?
Let me start by honoring my mother for many reasons, primarily for being very particular and demanding while being very classy, forthright, and an outstanding human being.
But it was my paternal grandmother (Nana) – whom herself did not have daughters – who was a stand-out influence in my life. My mother often recounted that she was instructed by my Nana to produce a daughter … and thank God my mother did!
Throughout her life, I was Nana’s favorite, although I did nothing but arrive a female. The favoritism was so pronounced that I recall feeling bad for my brother, my male cousin, and my younger female cousin because they didn't have the perks of responsibility and expectations that I did.
With grandmother’s favoritism came more responsibilities. While I was growing up, I always wanted to please my grandmother; she expected me to attend Hebrew school (3 days a week!), get stellar grades, and participate in critical foundational activities. Of course, I was determined to do all that and more.
In all fairness, I also revere my maternal grandmother for different reasons. She was widowed, and at 70-something, she started dating again; she remarried about 10 years later in her 80s. She always lived a fun-loving life, and she was warm and pure. I saw in her the kind of woman role model whom I hadn’t seen before. She was refreshingly different from other women of her time.
Lastly, I fondly recall a first-grade teacher, Ms. Sally Hauk, and my fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Fig; both were demanding teachers who pushed me to want to be even better. When you're a kid, and you get encouraged and pushed in the right ways, you may respond by wanting to achieve … instead of feeling less than others. There is a fine line for teachers between pushing and pushing too hard, but the best teachers are adept at nurturing in all the right ways.
Historical Figures I Admire
I usually speak in threes; in this case, I will double my three and name six historical women who inspire me.
First, I am a huge fan of Eleanor Roosevelt. She was both intelligent as a leader and remained fiercely independent in a non-partisan way, separating her greatness from that of her husband, FDR. She was also revered internationally and was an inspiration for other women around the world.
If you know me, you know how much I love fashion. My list would not be complete without women’s fashion trailblazer Elsa Schiaparelli. Elsa was born in the late 19th century and had launched her fashion house by the late 1920s. Her claims to fame are many, but in reality, it was she, not Coco Chanel or Christian Dior, who led the fashion world away from the corset, inventing the cinched waist and creating one of the first wrap dresses. Known for designing knitwear, as the lore would have it, she wore a hand-knitted sweater to a luncheon one day that was so popular, she later produced and sold hundreds of the same design. And that is how she started. She was both a visionary and a maker.
My list of women would not be complete without mentioning Golda Meir, the Kyiv-born leader, feminist, and former Prime Minister of Israel (1969-1974). She was the first female head of state in the Middle East and the fourth woman leader worldwide. It’s been reported that Ms. Meir was raised on a kibbutz and that her personality was at once very approachable while being highly engaging and persuasive, which undoubtedly served her well in politics and leadership.
I also must recognize Senator Hillary Clinton because she went as far as any woman could go in the U.S. and almost became president. She is incredibly smart and driven, and all the while, she has a family whom she protects at great lengths. She helped propel her husband to be the leader of the free world. She also defined grace under pressure – extraordinary pressure.
I want to proclaim my deep admiration for Meryl Streep because of her uncanny acting prowess and her ability to become so many different nuanced and influential roles. She’s got other-worldly talent and is also an extraordinary mom, which I greatly admire.
Finally, I must pay tribute to Supreme Court Associate Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. It may be Women’s History Month, but it’s most definitely the year of Justice Brown Jackson, our first Black woman and the first former federal public defender to serve on our highest court. She is also a mother of two daughters, and she’s stated publicly that if you traced her family heritage, you would find they were slaves on both sides of her family. Our country is better having associate Justice Brown Jackson on our highest U.S. court.
In Part 2 of my Women’s History Month musings, I will talk about the importance of women mentoring young women and empowering women leaders.
This article was published by Stacy D. Phillips on LinkedIn on March 10, 2023.