Teacher shares thoughts on women's history

March 13, 2012

Prof. Diane Beers talks about women's history. Students discuss women's history during a special program.

HCC History Prof. Diane Beers began a special presentation for Women's History Month by playing devil's advocate.

"Do we need a Women's History Month?" she asked a small group of students, all women, who came to the Marieb Center to hear her talk, which was more a discussion than a lecture.

"My daughter is 11 and I want her to know all the ways women have contributed to the world, and I don't know all the ways women have contributed to the world," said Julissa Colon, an HCC student in the Pathways program. "I think it's good to have it formalized, like Black History Month."

Beers' own opinion is that having Women's History Month forces society to pay attention. She noted, however, that while there have been a lot of good changes in the way U.S. history is now taught to incorporate different perspectives, one month a year devoted to women's history is not enough. "That is one of the reasons I wanted to have a women's history course here at HCC," she said.

Beers teaches that class, U.S. Women's History, and it's one of the reasons she was invited to help celebrate Women's History Month and International Women's Day at the Marieb Center on March 7.

She got the discussion going by asking people to consider what a women's history class would be studying 100-150 years from now. "What do you think they would be learning about women, about us, in 2012?"

Beers offered that people often have a misperception that history is a linear progression of improvements in society. But, in reality, she said, "history is often messier than that. Rights gained can be lost."

Colon noted the example of birth control and abortion rights as an issue that seems to continually return. "I think 150 years from now, they're going to think, wow, you're still fighting that battle?"

The right to vote is a gain that cannot be denied, Beers said. However, she added, women have only 20 percent of the votes in Congress, and 40 percent of businesses still have no women in senior management positions. "That's a fairly significant number," she said. "One of the realities is that the fastest growing share of the world's poor is women."

Globally, she said, women are more likely to suffer from food insecurity while one in ten U.S. girls suffers from an eating disorder. "I think they'd be studying these things too," Beers said. "I think they'd say, it's a mixed bag."

Wage gap statistics also show continued discrimination against women. One hundred years ago, she said, women only earned 25 cents on the dollar compared to men doing the same work. Slowly, the wage gap began to close, moving up to 40, 50, 60 and into the 80s.

"What's interesting," she said, "is that there has been a drop." For white women, the wage gap is now 75.5 cents on the dollar, when it had reached into the 80s. For women of color, the wage gap statistics show even more overt discrimination. African-American women earn 64 cents on the dollar compared to men, Latinas 52 cents.

"That's crazy," said Colon. "As a Latina woman, 52 cents on the dollar? Are you kidding?"

Women throughout history have fought for different rights in different ways, she said. For example, one of the ways African-American women fought against slavery was to form sewing circles, to make clothes for runaway slaves. "It was radical, revolutionary," she said. "They formed sewing circles as a way to push against boundaries, but not cause too much of a stir."

While they sewed clothes for runaway slaves, they also began to talk, to communicate with one another. Some women, Beers said, broke out and began to speak publicly, and they were hurt for it. Eventually, those speakers paved the way for other women, like Sojourner Truth.

"Women's history month is important," Beers said, "to recognize the different ways through the past women have tried to make change for themselves and for society; 150 years from now they are going to look at ways you made change."

Photos: (Left) Prof. Diane Beers talks at the Marieb Center March 7 for Women's History Month. (Right) HCC students Pat Nichols, right, and Julissa Colon participate in a discussion about Women's History Month. 


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