Instead of Women’s History Month: Can We Believe in the Universality of Women’s Stories?
While Women’s History Month is an opportunity to celebrate women and their contributions in history, rarely in everyday life do we do the same. Beyond a lack of representation in the film, music, publishing, and tech industries, women are still asking themselves: does my story deserve to be heard? The #MeToo movement has shown that as a society we identify with women’s voices in so much as we mine them for their trauma. Is there a future where we care about women’s stories beyond their pain? Is there a role for women outside of victim, martyr, and survivor?
The feminist scholar Gail Griffin has an essay called, “A Good and Worthy Voice.” In it, she explores the troubling history of men questioning the authority of women, and women questioning their own minds. One of the most empowering parts of Griffin’s essay is that she walks us through how many women in history have come to own their stories, find their voice, and reclaim them.
Earlier this year, during the Grammys, Kesha gave the most powerful performance of her career with her song “Praying.” Her voice cracked, she wailed, she seemed like a woman possessed, but a woman possessed with the confidence that she could suffer unspeakable violence and come through it with her most significant and meaningful song. Kesha didn’t lean into the victim narrative, she took control of her own story and connected to her audience through her vulnerability. “Praying” will make music history not only as Kesha’s breakthrough hit, but as the song that became the anthem for women and the #MeToo movement.
But some of the most important women in history were disparaged during their time. The anarchist and radical feminist Emma Goldman was once called, “The most dangerous woman in America,” by J. Edgar Hoover because of her solidarity and influence with unionization efforts and her anti-conscription speeches. Howard Zinn’s essay on Goldman in A People’s History of the United States brought Goldman’s story to a new generation of readers. Instead of looking at her as a ‘traitor’ against American democracy, many of us look at Goldman as a woman who championed worker’s rights, women’s health, and dedicated her life to the ‘unpopular cause’ of self-governance. Goldman said, “The history of progress is written in the blood of men and women who have dared to espouse an unpopular cause, as, for instance, the black man’s right to his body, or woman’s right to her soul.”
When I think of Emma Goldman, I am reminded of past and new generations of women who do not see their roles limited to victim, martyr or survivor. In fact, I think of another Emma, Emma González. And while she is a survivor of the Parkland Shooting, she is also an activist and young woman who has found her voice and dared to champion an unpopular cause, and is working towards change. Today, there are many women like Emma telling stories, creating art, and changing history. Reflecting on Women’s History Month allows us to transform women’s roles and women’s history into history and once and for all, accept the universality of women’s stories.