Women’s History As We Live It

Women’s History Month is also about the present

March is National Women’s History Month. It is supposed to highlight contributions of women throughout history. There are just so many reasons for us to do that! Throughout history, there have always been a small number of women who have managed to shine the light of accomplishment forward to us, despite the systems conspiring to keep them in their quiet, unobtrusive places.

For centuries, women were required to quite literally keep their heads down, their thoughts and opinions quiet, and live by the rules established by society. In the grand scheme of things, women have made more progress toward recognition of their accomplishments in the last 100 years then was possible for the last 1000 years.

The progress that has been made is undeniable. In the United States, women now earn more college and graduate degrees than men do. According to current statistics, women comprise half the workforce.  There are more women than ever in management and business ownership positions.

Different current studies I found indicate women earn approximately 80 cents for every dollar earned by men.  It’s the smallest to gap has ever been but it’s still a very significant gap. Annualized, it means that women would theoretically have to work an extra 40 days to receive the same amount of pay as men over the course of a year.

For a substantial percentage of women, having and/or raising children completely  changed our priorities in life for an extended period of time. Women, more frequently than men, find themselves dealing with a tug-of-war between home life and work life.  I thought this was a particularly good graphic:

 

History, social conditioning, upbringing and other things have also contributed to a real confidence gap between the sexes. Women generally underestimate their own abilities. In school settings and in work settings, they predict they’ll do worse on tests. At work, they don’t typically consider themselves as ready for promotions.

Changing perspective

You perceive the subject of women’s history quite differently depending on where you are in life and in your own experiences.  As a little kid and as a teenager I never felt limited in my options, although by the time I started college there was some sort of pressure to achieve at something, in some way.. My own personal intentions and path were significantly impacted by early symptoms of MS. Those things were also impacted by personal relationship choices I made – In part, choosing a college based on the fact that I did not want to be separated from my boyfriend by several states  how does the saying go? “The heart wants what it wants” and others like that …

My boyfriend/ fiance/ husband never, ever in any way denigrated my intelligence or mental abilities. I always wanted my opinion about everything. We talked about everything you can imagine, including business, politics  art, sports, etc. Of course, we didn’t agree about everything. But he never subscribed to the belief that I was not as good as him because I was a female.

Over the years, my husband worked with many women who were raising and responsible for children on their own, with limited or no financial and other contributions by the fathers of those children. More than once he commented to me how important it was to him that our daughters were educated enough to be able to take care of themselves in life, and not be dependent on “some a**h**e.”

It’s definitely easier said than done.

Every generation of young women has lived under serious pressures. The nature of those pressures have changed with time, but make no mistake, the result is still serious stress.

The internet and social media are wonderful things in many ways, but like so much else in the world, technology is a double-edged sword. There are the pluses, and the very real minuses.

In addition to navigating the already complicated process of figuring out what they want to do in their daily lives and careers, young women are navigating a minefield of pressures about growing expectations for them, compounded by pandemic-related issues.

I’ve read a couple of surveys in recent months indicating that an astounding percentage of high school and college students are suffering acutely from the tremendous pressures they face. Approximately 80% of students report their mental and emotional health having a negative impact on their academic performance. That’s huge.

High school and college students are trying to cope with feelings of isolation, loneliness, and disappointment at all the things swept away with turmoil the world is still experiencing. It’s hard to feel connected while social distancing, quarantining, and being unable to gather in groups for shared experiences or events.  Even as more and more people get vaccinated, Covid remains a continual and dangerous presence in everyone’s lives.

Technology

Social media and various types of digital communication with one another have done a lot to keep us all connected, even while apart from one another. During the pandemic, everyone as in some way benefited from the wondrous capabilities of modern technology.  But we have to be aware of the downside as well

Sadly, social media can increase pressures and insecurities about appearance. For 1000 years women have been classified and judged based on appearance. We are supposed to be more enlightened now. We talk about body positivity, uniqueness and individualism.  Simultaneously, though, young women still report feeling intense pressure to conform to whatever the standard of the day happens to be. Part of that desire to conform is never going to change – it’s human nature. But when it’s not balanced out by opportunities for in-person interactions and the affirmation or validation that comes with those interactions … well, the imbalance and isolation aren’t pretty.

Distance learning and telecommuting for work have helped life keep moving forward. But as a 2020 national survey by the American Psychological Association (APA) reported, those aged 18 to 23 seem to be taking significant pandemics stress the hardest. It makes perfect sense that the APA attributes that particular finding to experiencing young adulthood during such incredibly uncertain times.

And let’s not forget all the racial, political, and gender-related turmoil that’s been part of daily life for far too long.

Maintaining priorities

I consistently remind my own children that there are much more important things in life than making a career choice that seems glamorous or exciting, being recognized as successful, making money, getting more followers and likes and re-tweets.  It’s far more important to be a good human being, a true friend, a caring member of the community.

It’s not lost on me that my own endeavors are on the internet and social media. The purpose of that, though, is to be a caring member of the community – to help other people in any way I can from my tiny little corner of the world.  I’m successful because my kids know the difference.

As March comes to an end, it seems like a good time to remind women of all ages that they are people of value and purpose, and that no matter what they do, they are making history happen.

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