Women’s History Month is a time to celebrate women and their accomplishments — but issues surrounding gender roles, the gender pay gap, racial inequities and more still linger.
Women in the workforce
Women around the world have historically been a minority class who have been slowly increasing their socioeconomic status.
For example, Director of Women’s Studies Carolina Rocha said women in the Latin American cinema industry are trying to climb the ladder into more director positions after years of production work.
“Historical films have predominantly been done by male directors, so in theory we should take a look at how history and gender intersect,” Rocha said. “What happens when women revisit the past in film?”
Rocha said what women face in the U.S. is similar to what women in Latin America face: lack of access to higher education. But the addition of women in government positions for some Latin American countries has lead to new laws being passed, providing flickers of hope.
“In a way, having women at the very top of the government [has] broken some ceilings,” Rocha said. “Argentina recently passed a [safe] abortion law that they tried for several years to have [made into] law. It is still very controversial, but this is something that was unthinkable 20 years ago.”
Access to abortions has been a topic of debate in the U.S. Some states have imposed bans under specific instances, while others, such as New York, Vermont and Hawaii, have expanded their abortion laws to protect what Roe v. Wade declared a fundamental women’s right.
According to UN Women, only 30 percent of women hold a job in research positions in natural sciences, engineering and technology, medical and health sciences, agricultural sciences, social sciences and humanities. These numbers are estimated to continue to grow, as the Postsecondary National Policy Institute said the number of women enrolled in higher education has consistently outnumbered their male counterparts since 2000.
In 2020, there were 21 women who held the head of state or government positions in 193 countries around the world, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. The U.S. is one of the countries that hasn’t had a woman as president; although the inauguration of Kamala Harris, for many, has shown this could now be a possibility.
History of the patriarchy
Representation of women as a minority dates back to the ancient world. History Department Chair Allison Thomason focuses her research around the field of ancient history and Mesopotamia. She said the ancient world worked in a patriarchal society. Elements of this are present in our society today.
“Men were typically the first choice when it came to inheriting land, which was the main way to acquire wealth and status,” Thomason said. “It was a society based on a monarchy, kings, so the default was always a man to rule, but there are exceptions.”
Although in ancient societies men held the top governmental positions, Thomason said this didn’t exclude women from owning land. The ownership of land was regarded as being one of wealth and high societal status.
Intersections of activism
Musicology Professor at Miami University Tammy Kernodle said Black women that are musicians have used their platforms in the past and present as a way to raise awareness for women and the racial justice movement.
“[Farah Griffin] outlines how the spectacle and the voice of the singing Black woman has been ‘used to suggest a peaceful, interracial version in America,’” Kernodle said. “This singing spectacle offers an alternative vision of a more inclusive America.”
Kernodle said this idea of how Black women in music have been looked at as peacemakers has been seen in many well-known artists, such as Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill. She specifically cited the song “We Gotta Pray” by Keys, which came out to protest police brutality against Black people.
“This decision sparked protests throughout the country and in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death, activists and musicians took to social media [beginning] to call for musicians to use their voices as a beacon of social change,” Kernodle said.
Thomason said around the world the historical issue of gender and race has pressed into today’s world.
“In the U.S., the intersectionality of race and gender is really significant and deserves a lot of questioning, interrogation and consideration,” Thomason said. “Especially when it comes to the unique history of the U.S.”
Thomason is referring to the millions of Africans who were shipped to the New World between the 1500s and 1800s. Although her research doesn’t lie within U.S. history, she said the study of gender and race in the U.S. is unique because of this specific portion of history.
#SayHerName came to social media in 2014 to protest violence against Black women by police officers. The campaign started to spread awareness for Black women who are harassed, injured and killed by police officers. Since 2015, 48 Black women have been killed by the police and only two charges were brought up, a New York Times article said.
“I think we need to go a little beyond what looks good on paper. There are so many challenges that we as a society face,” Rocha said. “For instance, we have to remember the case of Breonna Taylor. When we know about those cases, and if we see them as problems, there are solutions.”
In the span of nine days this summer, six Black trans women were found dead, Them, a publication devoted to reporting through an LGBTQ+ lens, said. The Human Rights Campaign reported at least 25 trans individuals were killed: 91 percent being Black women and 81 percent being less than 30 years old.
Throughout Women’s History Month, and the rest of the year, Thomason said we need to introduce young people to role models and struggles they may still face when they go out in the world.
“Introduce them to [the] barriers that have been put up for women, and again, it’s not just about gender here,” Thomason said. “There are all sorts of other issues that many genders face. I think the earlier you can introduce young people to these aspects of contemporary culture, the better.”
For information about SIUE’s Women’s History Month events, visit SIUE’s Women’s Studies website.