Happy Women’s History Month, friends.
Critics like Financial Times writer Pilita Clark certainly have a point when they say that “Women must demand the right to be as useless as men” — meaning that when we celebrate exceptional women, we may be doing a disservice to the overall women’s movement and the advancement of all women, both the exceptional and, well, the normal.
But still, this time on the calendar and the spate of media articles on the topic (and, in my line of work in public relations, the spate of media pitches we develop that leverage the month to try to make clients seem relevant for one reason or another) are a good reminder to reflect on some of the women, historical moments and lessons that have made an impact on us and our journeys as women.
And so, in honor of Women’s History Month, here are some of the things we at The Juggle are celebrating as we reflect on what it means to be a woman in the world, both today and throughout history.
Celebrating women with purpose
Like many, I often struggle with finding purpose in my daily life and work (despite setting a New Year’s resolution to be more intentional this year). By day, I work in public relations, helping tech companies tell their stories and stay “on message.” It’s not exactly mission-driven work. So I find myself deeply inspired by women making a real difference in the world.
This month, I’m celebrating women like my friend Jacq, who identified a problem with the way some of the most vulnerable among us, pregnant women in prison, are treated, and took the initiative to start a nonprofit to solve that problem. (By the way, if you’re interested in learning more or making a tax-deductible donation to directly support pregnant women and mothers in prison, visit: Michigan Prison Doula Initiative.)
Celebrating a young person’s big action (Mari Copeny aka “Little Miss Flint,” 2007–present)
I’m trying to focus on supporting and serving other women this year. A big inspiration for me is an 11-year-old girl from my home state of Michigan who has done more for others by middle school than most people do in a lifetime.
Mari Copeny, also known as “Little Miss Flint,” wrote to President Obama in 2016 (when she was eight) asking him to meet with her regarding the Flint water crisis. The result was a presidential visit to Flint and a $100 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to improve Flint’s water system. Since then, Copeny has helped thousands in her community get clean water and school supplies and has worked with numerous organizations to support women, children and people of color. You can support her by donating to Pack Your Back.
Celebrating a legacy (Selena, 1971–1995)
A few weeks ago, I saw country singer Kacey Musgraves perform at the Houston Rodeo. Kacey played a great set, but what really tore the house down was her cover of Selena Quintanilla’s 1992 classic, “Como la Flor.” As soon as she started singing the opening notes, the crowd (a casual 53,000 people) lost its collective mind. Everywhere I looked people were dancing or crying or both.
Selena’s iconic final concert, which took place a month before her death in 1995, was also at the Houston Rodeo. She broke the attendance record and closed with “Como la Flor” for a crowd of almost 65,000 adoring fans. (The performance is incredible if you haven’t seen it.)
As a white girl growing up in Michigan, I loved Selena’s music videos, but it wasn’t until I moved to Texas, Selena’s home state, that I saw firsthand the depth of her impact. When a local grocery chain recently released a line of Selena shopping bags, the first round sold out immediately, with bags reselling on eBay for up to $100. The last time I wore my Selena t-shirt in public a stranger hugged me. That is the power of Selena, even 24 years after her death.
What Selena accomplished before her tragic death at age 23 is staggering — she is still the best selling female Latin music artist in history. But what is most moving is her lasting impact on those who loved and admired her, especially the millions of women and girls who had never seen someone who looked or sounded like them shining on a global stage. As one fan recently put it, “the power of having someone who grew up just like you and looks like you succeed at that scale was beyond comprehension.” It’s no wonder her legacy lives on.
Celebrating a civil rights and women’s rights hero (Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray, 1910–1985)
On recommendation from a Juggle reader (Thanks, Emily!), I’m reading Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray.” Murray was a civil rights and women’s rights advocate. She was a woman ahead of her time: Two decades before the sit-ins of the 1960s, she refused to sit in the back of the bus and was organizing against segregation. She formulated the argument to end Jim Crow a decade before Brown vs. Board of Education, and her writings ultimately influenced Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s argument that the Equal Protection Clause applies to women.
Murray believed in what she did and what kind of impact her ideas were going to have, even though that impact wouldn’t be felt in her lifetime. During an oral history program in 1976, Murray said:
I would like to say here,
if you will notice that the questions you’ve been asking me about my activities
and the things that I was involved in,
that in not a single one of these little campaigns
was I victorious.
In other words, in each case, I personally failed,
but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating
and what I very often say is that
I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.
Celebrating vaginas (“The Dinner Party,” by Judy Chicago, 1939–present)
I also explored Judy Chicago’s “The Dinner Party,” a piece that lives in the Brooklyn Museum. It’s an ode to historical and mythical women with a lot of vagina representations on beautiful ceramic plates. The “Dinner Party” features place settings for many women, including Sacajawea, Susan B. Anthony, Georgia O’Keeffe, Ethel Smyth and (my favorite) Theodora. The combination of sexuality with storytelling in the place settings and Heritage Floor sparked my imagination and appreciation for the women who’ve come before me.
Celebrating women who take care of women
My kiddo just turned one (I survived! I mean, happy birthday, little one!), I’ve been thinking about the millennia-old and traditionally female practice of midwifery. There are many women who’ve done important work to advance this practice and its recognition as a legitimate health science and profession, but my mind’s been on the “regular” women who do this work day in and day out in their communities. I’m also thinking about the role of doulas, who coach women through childbirth, and of lactation consultants, who help expectant and new mothers with breastfeeding. (I worked with a lactation consultant during the first week of my baby’s life and probably wouldn’t have made it another day breastfeeding without her support.)
While most of these women will never be featured (by name, at least) in history books or popular media celebrating notable women in history, they are nothing short of heroic to the families they serve. One way I’m honoring them this month is by donating to Mama Sana Vibrant Woman, a community organization that “works to facilitate access to culturally appropriate and quality prenatal and postnatal care for women of color in Austin and Travis County” (where I live).