Women’s History Month is More Relevant Than Ever in 2018— That’s Both Good and Bad
By: Sarah Labadie
Most years, Women’s History Month feels like the one time that corporations and the media remember that women are people too. But this year, it feels different. Instead of simply being a month in women’s honor, this March has been a month celebrating our triumphs. Women are marching across the world to demand respect and accountability from our elected representatives. Record numbers of women are seeking political office to be those representatives. Women are naming their abusers, being believed, and even seeing some justice.
So yeah, it feels different. But we need to put in more work to ensure this feeling doesn’t go away.
The New York Times recently launched a feature called Overlooked, publishing obituaries they previously neglected to write for 15 exceptional women. It’s a nice gesture —and one that’s overdue — but it also demonstrates why we still need Women’s History Month and the continued activism we’ve now seen at two Women’s Marches. By the paper’s own admission, white men have dominated the obituaries published in the New York Times since the 1850's. Highlighting the lives of 15 remarkable women who’ve passed doesn’t begin to make a dent in how many women have been overlooked over the years.
What the Times’ piece really doesn’t address is that many women — and especially women of color — couldn’t achieve the necessary status to rise to the level of a New York Times obituary because they were likely prevented from doing so.
This year, the first ever woman was nominated for an Oscar for cinematography. Some might think the lack of a nomination before 2018 is about merit — i.e. fewer women cinematographers, fewer chances to be nominated. But that explanation willfully ignores that women weren’t accepted into the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) until 1980, more than 60 years after it was founded. Even now, only 4 percent of members of the ASC are women. It’s hard to become a cinematographer when your potential mentors don’t feel like you belong to their club.
This year, Frances McDormand gave an incredible speech at the Oscars urging Hollywood actors and actresses to start using their power to include more women in productions. More than 20 years ago, she expressed a similar idea — that directors and producers create more roles of substance for more women. Clearly, not enough has changed in the industry in 20 years — we cannot allow another 20 years to go by without ensuring women have equal opportunity in Hollywood.
(By the way, if acting nominees were not separated by gender you can bet there wouldn’t be many women in the mix. Male nominees’ movies are also much more likely to be nominated for best picture.)
Of course, this issue spreads outside of Hollywood. In the NCAA, 60 percent of women’s teams are coached by men. Nationwide, the number of women in elected office hovers around 25 percent. Only 5 percent of CEOs of major companies are women. Don’t worry — women are well represented in some industries. Of the 23 million low-paid workers in the United States, two-thirds are women.
It’s clear we need to keep doing more to move beyond Women’s History Month. How can each of us help close gender divides in the industries we work in? Do you know the percentage of women in your professional association? Have you made an effort to help women network in your field? Let’s keep working so that Women’s History Month not only feels different but is actually different. Hopefully one day this symbolic month will become an annual reminder of how far the world has come in valuing women’s contributions. But in 2018, we’re not quite there yet.
How are YOU helping close gender divides in your industry? Do you know the percentage of women in your professional association? Have you made an effort to help women network and build connections in your field? Tell us below in the comments!