Celebrating Women’s Herstory Month and in praise of democracy
"Love, understood in this way, and in contrast to trivial representations, requires active participation, similar to a movement, in advancing respect as a lived experience and value."
Women’s History Month has been observed in the United States since 1987, as an acknowledgement of the need to recognize women’s oftentimes invisibilized contributions to human development. Before this, in 1975, and when introducing the annual observance of International Women’s Day, the United Nations established that, “securing peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms require the active participation, equality and development of women; and to acknowledge their enduring contributions.”
However, in order to really re-examine traditional his-story and its omissions – similar to the historical omissions experienced by communities of color, poor people, LGBTQ+ communities and other underrepresented groups – one should speak of not simply a revision of history, but of an intentional her-story, as a matter of fact. Among other things, this implies what feminist scholars have defined as the critical examination of the “standards” by which traditional history or theory have been established – in other words, who and what is important; who are our “heroes” and role models; whose invention, research and/or creative production are considered of worth, or even, masterpieces?
Further, in order to understand and validate those contributions, it also has to mean a judicious analysis of the different experiences of diverse groups of women – currently, and throughout space and time – and diverse in race, ethnicity, social class, sexual and gender identity, ability, immigration status, religion, political views, and so forth. It is also critically important to emphasize that those re-examinations should not, and cannot, be only carried out by women.
In one of her many well-known volumes, Feminism is for Everybody, critical theorist and feminist writer, bell hooks – a black woman from a poor, rural background in Kentucky, as she always made a point of reminding her audience – describes how she became a feminist, while attending graduate school, and upon the realization of how much of “sexist thinking” had been part of her own familiar, cultural and social formation. Conversely, upon that process of deep reflection, she also recognized that what we usually call “feminism” has had to undergo a much-needed progression of understandings among feminists themselves, usually referred as, “waves of feminism”.
As a woman of color, she criticized the limitations of the first (suffrage) and second (work and reproductive rights) waves of feminism, as having been conceived and advanced by essentially white, heterosexual women of certain levels of economic or educational privilege, and therefore not addressing the complexities and manifold obstacles experienced by poor women, women of color, LGBTQ+ and gender non-conforming women; and in her case, black women. Facing those complexities is what was later developed by diverse groups of women, referred to as the third and fourth waves of feminism, and some even speak of a fifth wave.
For hooks, feminism implies self-actualization, but also, love, a term extensively developed by her in much of her writings but at times trivialized and misunderstood by some of her critics. For her, love is the opposite of domination, and therefore, of all forms of oppression. However, love, understood in this way, and in contrast to trivial representations, requires active participation, similar to a movement, in advancing respect as a lived experience and value; in other words, what is also so vitally needed to advance democracy. At a time when the world is in such need of love, peace and democracy, Happy Women Herstory Month to all!