It’s Women’s History Month and I have been teaching my class about the accomplishments of women throughout history. While pretty much all of my students are receptive to the idea of spending extra time learning about women, some of them do seem a bit confused as to why we are doing it. Some even going as far to ask, “Why is there no Men’s History Month?”
This question is actually pretty common. It has been asked rhetorically online by so-called “men’s rights” activists in chat rooms and internet forums.
This question has a simple answer; there is no need. Women’s History Month is a response to a very real need to give students a more accurate representation of women throughout history. There is no such need for a men’s history month because the accomplishments of men are well chronicled, well respected, and well taught. You don’t need a special month to remind you to do something you already do.
When you make a grocery list, you typically list the supplies you don’t have or are almost gone, not supplies you have in surplus. In my house, the constant need is vegetables. We are always running low on vegetables. We never have enough, and in spite of its perpetual spot on our grocery list, we never seem to buy enough. Because of this, the app I use to create our grocery list has a standing reminder to buy vegetables. We don’t need any such reminders to buy Oreos because we buy enough of those already. Oreos are all over our pantry. We don’t need a reminder to shop for sweets.
Here are some facts that you should encourage people to think about when they ask you, “Why is there no Men’s History Month?”
1. Women’s history is neglected in traditional classroom studies.
The history we are accustomed to is a combination of oral and written history recorded mostly by men. There are a variety of reasons for this, but it is mostly due to the fact women have not been treated as equals for the bulk of human history. Thus, it’s only natural the achievements and contributions of women would be given a back seat as well.
In the modern age, women are accepted as equals, therefore, we should treat their history with greater importance too. This sometimes requires special effort given the fact most classrooms and teachers simply default to the male-centered history education we have been using for so many years.
2. Teaching women’s history doesn’t detract from men in any way.
Many people often view focusing on a particular group in the form of a special holiday or month as unfair to the others; however, this is really not the case. Women’s History Month exists to highlight and promote the accomplishments and contributions of females because they are often overlooked.
Are males “often overlooked” in history class? No. In fact, if you ask the vast majority of Americans to name an important historical figure they will give you the name of a man in spite of the fact that women are and have been approximately 50% of the population.
Does teaching women’s history preclude teaching men’s history? No. Learning is not a zero-sum game. Just because a teacher devotes a little more time to Abigail Adams doesn’t mean students can’t still learn about Samuel Adams or John Adams.
3. Representation Matters.
One of the projects I do in my history class is have students pretend to be someone from a previous time period. One observation I noticed is my male students would always pretend to be kings, inventors, politicians, or generals; my female students would always pretend to be queens, wives, homemakers, or maids. At first, I thought this was simply a function of my boys being more interested in pretending or lack of imagination by the girls. However, one day, I simply asked one of my girl students. “Why do you always choose to be a something like a maid every time we do this activity?” She responded, “Well what else did women even do back then?” That’s when I realized my own teaching limited the scope of women’s accomplishments and abilities in the eyes of my students.
We know that seeing women in expanded roles has a huge impact on the perception of women in society. It’s important for school-age girls to know women contributed more to society than simply catering to their husbands.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need Women’s History Month, but we don’t live in an ideal world. We live in one where women have been oppressed and relegated to the back. Because of this, we need to make extra sure we are doing right by them today.