Importance of more inclusivity during Women’s History Month, beyond the norm

Women’s History Month is celebrated in March and explores news women’s achievements 


Carolina Rocha, professor of Spanish and Latin American Studies and director of the Women’s Studies Program, said that Women’s History Month is a chance for everyone to learn about people who have created opportunities for women. It is a chance to celebrate women who have pathed the way for women of today and became the first to accomplish many things. 


“It means an opportunity to learn more about the amazing women that have come before me,” Rocha said. “For instance, last month we had a speaker who talked about Ida B. Wells. I know about her passion, her dedication. I didn't know that she was involved [in] women's activism. And like her, there's so many remarkable women that we need to learn about,” 


English professor Helena Gurfinkel said that Women’s History Month must remind us of the continued fight for women’s rights and equality for women everywhere in the world. 


“I've always thought that women's contributions and women's intellectual authority need to be recognized, and they're not always given their proper due,” Gurfinkel said. “I think it's really important to women like myself to be vocal in teaching and research and encourage others to acknowledge our rights and fight for our rights. My recent research has been, in fact, on women film directors and in feminist approaches to film. So the subject is really important to me. I live it, and I think about it every day,”


Rocha said that we need to make the celebration of Women’s History Month more inclusive by celebrating with trans women as well as cis women. 


“I think the recognition of what it means to be gendered,” Rocha said. “We are all gendered in one way or the other one, and in different ways and the idea is how to celebrate who we are, [and] what we bring to the table with our different genders.”


Gurfinkel also said that inclusivity needs to be established for this month's celebration. 


“The word woman should definitely be inclusive, Gurfinkel said. “That is something that should be introduced as we consider Women's History Month. So in other words, we should go beyond the essentialist kind of, biological ideas of what a woman is, and consider various expressions. There are gender expressions, various expressions of womanhood, and I think it's probably happening. And as years go by it will be emphasized more,”


Gurfinkel said that misconceptions about Women’s History Month are similar to misconceptions about feminism. 


“Because people who make assumptions about feminism think about how it's kind of shrill and loud and needs to and seeks to put down man, which obviously is not true. And I think it's the same misconceptions about Women's History Month,” Gurfinkel said. 


Gurfinkel said that she wants all people to examine Women’s History Month and think and learn about the trials and tribulations of women’s history and what the future may look like for them. 


“How women's lives have changed across centuries,” Gurfinkel said. “What it meant to be a woman at different periods in this nation's history, in world history compared to what it means now. And think about how things are going to look in the future. I think the historical part of it is crucially important, just going back and reading about women's lives and the suffrage struggle,” 


There has been an uprising of wonder of whether the word “woman” is now considered derogatory. Rocha said that people are entitled to their own opinions, but she doesn’t find the word to be derogatory. 


“We're so proud of the tradition, of being women, female and bringing our perspective to the workplace, culture and different professions,” Rocha said. 


Gurfinkel said that words continue to change and mean different things to different people. 


“I think that largely depends on the time period and the culture, because obviously words evolve and develop and they mean different things as you move around the world and as you move across centuries,” Gurfinkel. “I don't believe it is [derogatory] anymore. At least it's not as much as it used to be. Because I think it definitely used to be associated with emotionality or weakness, various kind of second rate or qualities, or something derogatory, but I think as the definition of woman is becoming is changing, evolving and becoming more culturally accessible, I think it's becoming more positive as well,”


Gurfinkel said people can support women this month by educating themselves on women’s history. She said they can do this by reading the historical books and watching the documentaries and films, especially those written, created, and directed by women and women identified directors. 


Rocha said that people can support women during and after Women’s History Month by just being more kind and respectful to them. She said that there are great Women’s Studies events coming up as well. She said that Dr. Alicia Canterbury organized a concert soon to come. 


“A professor, is going to be talking about queering and the problem of sexual violence on campuses,” Rocha said. “On March 16th, we are going to have a speaker who is going to be talking about a film, ‘To keep or not to keep’ about women who decide to have children and other women who decide they don't want to be mothers.


Gurfinkel said that the Women Studies Program is and always does a lot of educating and celebrating of women’s history. 


“I think Women's History Month is celebrated at SIUE pretty consistently,” Gurfinkel said. “Women’s studies has a calendar and there are many interesting talks and presentations that are happening especially in women’s studies classes pretty much on a monthly basis. Gurfinkel said. 


For more information, visit the SIUE Women's Studies website.  


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