Arts & Culture

Women’s History Month: Read, Listen, Watch, Reflect

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD 2022). The holiday is set aside to honor women’s achievements across categories including culture, science, politics, and economics. It’s also a day to focus on work that still needs to be done in the areas of gender equality, reproductive rights, and violence against women. Although the first celebration, back in 1911, was tied to the women’s movement of the Russian Revolution, today’s holiday belongs to all women regardless of nationality or location.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day is #BreakTheBias. Bias is something that I’ve written about a lot at Women’s Voices for Change, specifically the bias that has kept Hollywood’s women from achieving the same opportunities as Hollywood’s men, and I share IWD 2022’s vision:

Imagine a gender equal world.
A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.
A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
A world where difference is valued and celebrated.
Together we can forge women’s equality.
Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.

International Women’s Day is just the beginning. The entire month of March is set aside as Women’s History Month, recognized by the United Nations in 1970 and by Congress in 1987. Of course, supporting women is an activity we should be engaging in year-round — whether that’s by coaching and mentoring younger women, creating opportunities for women to advance, shopping at women-owned businesses, donating to women-centric nonprofits, or seeking out works by women artists, writers, and filmmakers. There are many ways to chip away at the biases that currently exist.

This year, the Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution, and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have joined forces to commemorate and encourage the study, observance, and celebration of the oft-forgotten role of women in American history.

Pulling from more than a dozen of its collections, the Library of Congress offers guides and resources that span women’s participation in all aspects of U.S. history. In addition to a wealth of content, official documents, and memorabilia, there’s a librarian available by chat on weekdays from noon to 4 pm EST.

If you prefer listening to reading, there are many (probably countless) podcasts to choose from. One of my favorites, now in its 11th season, is The History Chicks. Hosts Beckett Graham and Susan Vollenweider are quick to warn that, “This is not your traditional history lesson.” In addition to recording their lively discussions on female characters in history, “factual or fictional,” they post show notes and suggestions for further study. A quick look at their full episodes list (they’re about to hit 200) and you’ll find an eclectic mix of female trailblazers, from Hattie McDaniel to Lucille Ball, Catherine the Great to Jackie Onassis, Jane Austen to Maya Angelou, and Alice in Wonderland to Mrs. Claus. 

If your interests lie in more contemporary tales of notable women, subscribe to 9 to 5ish, an interview-based podcast by the cofounders of TheSkimm, Danielle Weisenberg and Carly Zakin. They produce a weekly series that promises “the work advice you need, from women who’ve been there.” Their most recent guest was Laurie Segall, who began as a journalist, reimagined CNN’s technology coverage, and eventually founded Dot Dot Dot, a media platform that examines new technology through “a human lens.”

Perfect for those of us who never seem to have enough time, Womanica (originally — and cleverly — titled Encyclopedia Womanica) offers stories of iconic women in efficient but engaging five-to-10-minute bites. This month, Womanica is focusing on innovators, with quick episodes dedicated to mathematician Ada Lovelace, computer designer Evelyn Berezin, coffee filter inventor Melitta Bentz, and physicist Katharine Burr Blodgett. A special bonus episode previews a new podcast called Getting Even with Anita Hill.

Finally, if you’d prefer to watch television programs for, by, and about women, you’ll find specially curated choices on all of the subscription streaming services. But one of the best places to turn, for some of the best quality programs, is PBS.

The Vote is available as part of public television’s acclaimed American Experience series. Produced two years ago for the centennial of the 19th Amendment, The Vote tells the story of women’s crusade to earn suffrage in America. In two parts, and a total of four hours, this transformative chapter of American history is examined through firsthand accounts, historian commentary, photographs, and historic documents. Although it covers 75 years of dedicated and heroic activism, most of the focus is on the movement’s last decade. It should be required viewing for any woman (or man) who takes voting for granted.

For Our Girls is a short (eleven-minute) film that focuses on the unique challenges, deep pain, and great love Black women experience raising daughters. From dealing with racist bullying to hypersexualization to diminishing self worth, the film explores how parenting Black girls is different from parenting white girls. The stories and experiences shared are particularly moving in the aftermath of the deaths of Sandra Bland and Breonna Taylor.

Another fine short film, Without a Whisper, explores the role Indigenous women played in America’s suffrage movement. The hidden but significant influence of the women of the Haudenosaunee (renamed Iroquois by English settlers) Nation is carefully taught by Professor Sally Roesch Wagner and Mohawk Clan Mother Louise Herne. While we may think of the suffrage movement as the start of women’s equality, in fact, indigenous women in the U.S. had power long before European women did.

Finally, later this month, PBS will air the Oscar-nominated documentary Writing With Fire as part of its Independent Lens series. The movie chronicles the work of the determined women who run Khabar Lahariya (translated as “News Wave”) in India, reporting on national and local news from a feminist perspective, and defying the odds in the face of deep-rooted discrimination.

As President Biden states in his 2022 proclamation on Women’s History Month, a White House tradition that goes back to President Carter and what was then Women’s History Week:

This Women’s History Month, as we reflect on the achievements of women and girls across the centuries and pay tribute to the pioneers who paved the way, let us recommit to the fight and help realize the deeply American vision of a more equal society where every person has a shot at pursuing the American dream.  In doing so, we will advance economic growth, our health and safety, and the security of our Nation and the world.

Writing With Fire will premiere on PBS March 28. Other PBS titles mentioned are available online.


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