Categorized | Arts & Culture

Women’s History Month celebrates a history of changing stereotypes

It has only been 93 years since the passing of one of our nation’s most influential amendments to the Constitution.  On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment made it possible for all women to vote, a long and ultimately successful struggle of many women activists of the early 20th century.  Almost one hundred years later, Women’s History Month has become a prominent month-long remembrance for the United States.

“Women’s History Month is an opportunity to celebrate our sheroes, past and present,” said Emily Dievendorf, the policy director for Equality Michigan.

“To those women who have paved the way and those women who are working now to create better representation of women…so that someday soon we can be treated as equal under the law.”

Women’s History Month marks the ever-changing roles of women in society.  What began as International Women’s Day in 1911, Women’s History Month established into the current month-long celebration in 1978 by the United States Congress.

In 2011, the Obama administration released a report marking 50 years of progress.

This progress has shown itself in various ways, which has immensely helped the feminist and equality cause.  It is clear that the roles of women in film, music and even everyday activities, have changed strikingly in recent years.

“Women were limited to traditional roles that we as a society would, or should, consider as sexist—roles that denounce women in authority,” said Amanda Heckenkamp, a sociology freshman.  “Now, women have the opportunity to take on more respected roles, like Geena Davis as the President of the United States in the TV series Commander in Chief.  Even Murphy Brown created a lot of controversy because she chose to be a single mother on the show.”

When one looks at early female characters on television shows such as The Brady Bunch or Leave It to Beaver, it is impossible not to note the simple construction of the woman.  Primarily a housewife, serving a family and rarely doing anything else, women in older television shows differ immensely from characters in new programs such as actress Kyra Sedgewick on The Closer and Maggie Q on Nikita.

Portrayals in film, above all else, have strongly shaped the evolution of roles for women.  Women used to be held as pristine objects and even highly sexualized.

“Take, for example, Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider films,” said Mara Abramson, a women’s and gender studies sophomore.  “Though she is the protagonist—which in and of itself is an accomplishment, because generally speaking females never play the main character in a movie. Unless, of course, it’s a romantic comedy—she is still clad in highly sexualized tight-fitting clothing to serve as a reminder that she is still a female and should always be viewed as a sexual object.”

Emily Snoek, a women’s studies and social relations and policy senior agreed.

“I think it is important to think critically about what we’re seeing in popular culture–advertisements, reality television, high fashion, celebrities, news broadcasts, etc. because all of these things affect how we think about ourselves and the women and men in our lives,” said Snoek.  “Considering whether or not women’s roles are evolving or just expanding within the roles already assigned to the female sex is interesting and not easy to answer.”

If the roles are evolving, it is safe to say that Women’s History Month is leading our society to a proper understanding of gender and sex.

“Women’s history month is an important month to observe because the fight for women’s rights is far from over in the United States,” said Dievendorf.  “All communities disproportionately affected by discrimination and exclusion are better served when we shine a light on how they have been affected by history and how they have helped to shape it.”

Like most equality movements, activism is key and the fight for equality does not end at feminism.

“I consider each movement to be unique, but appreciate that the central focus for movements advocating for women, communities of color and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities is the same: to attain the justice and fairness that our country prides itself on valuing,” said Dievendorf.  “Knowing our history can enlighten us as to where our voices are still lacking and inspire today’s citizens to take a more active role in creating positive change in our world.”

To many advocates for the movement, the fight will not truly end until genuine equality is achieved for women and all others in the world.

“Women’s issues are not dead. Feminism is not dead. And we do not have equality yet,” said Snoek.  “This month celebrates all of us and should be commemorated for just that.”

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