The Importance of Women's History Month & Inspiring Role Models

Op-ed

I am a strong believer in using the influence of the past to recognise possibilities and issues we could encounter in the future.

March 2021 - Woman’s History Month - is an opportunity to bring attention to pioneers that shaped the modern world.

Because certain people in society have been denied the right to shape history for years, it is important we take the time to appreciate their work. After all, it's better late than never.

History Month 2021

Hidden pioneers like Margery Kempe or Hedy Lammar have been long denied recognition and even though they may have had a meteoric influence on the course of modern history, their achievements have been discredited due to their gender.

Women’s History Month focuses on increasing visibility to women’s accomplishments and this year’s theme extends the 2020 theme of ‘Valiant Women of the Vote: Refusing to Be Silenced.’ It draws attention to suffragettes and suffragists, over a hundred years after women secured the vote in the U.S.

This month’s Hot Five; five featured women by the NHWM (National Women's History Month), are Sylvia Rivera (a veteran of the 1969 Stonewall Uprising), Stacey Abrams (a prominent politician), Anna Arnold Hegeman (advocate for social and civil rights), Pauli Murray (a poet, writer and activist) and Cori Bush (one of the newest members of congress).

While I live in the U.K., I think that women’s history month applies to every country and there are a multitude of female role models to look up to outside the U.S.

1) Catherine Parr

One of my favorite British heroines is Catherine Parr who is most commonly known as the sixth and final wife of the infamous Henry the 8th (a.k.a "the one who survived").

While ruling as regent for her husband when he was abroad, Catherine constructed stable alliances and managed finances for Henry’s foreign campaign and secured the right to publish work in her own name; a collection of vernacular texts called ‘prayers and meditations’ which helped develop the Church of England.

2) Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz is another great woman to put a spotlight on for History Month because of her work for education.

Born in seventeenth-century Mexico, Juana became a nun to further her studies. She wrote plays and poems and hosted discussions with local scholars in her own study and library. She endured endless backlash but continued to grow in influence due to her famed intelligence.

In 1695 she sold her four thousand books and donated the proceeds to charity, before dying of plague while tending to other sick nuns.

Now we may view Juana’s knowledge as an asset and a testament of her character, but in the 1600’s, it was dangerous to be so successful as a woman. Juana’s work is especially groundbreaking with this in mind.

3. Hedy Lamar

Hedy Lamar is an overlooked inventor that was most famous for her acting. Born in the early 1900’s, Hedy fled Nazi Austria and an estranged marriage before establishing a career as a Hollywood starlet.

Hedy also created the ‘Secret Communications System’, technology adapted by the United States Navy, during WWII to ensure enemies couldn’t decode messages.

These three women that I chose to highlight and the others showcased by the theme chosen by the NHWS are representatives of the thousands of women that aren’t remembered.

It is well known that history is written by men and more often than not, women were omitted from these retellings of historical events from a male-dominated viewpoint or villainized (sometimes as witches, enemies of the church, etc).

Representation of underrated female achievements now is especially impactful. It breeds inspiration for young girls.

In male-dominated industries such as the STEM fields which have a disproportionate ratio of male-female employees, CEOs, and students, it can be daunting for prospective female applicants. STEMwomen.co.uk reports that only 35 out of a hundred STEM students are female.

Other TTM articles that explore women's issues;

1) Laura Zheng’s piece on the link between misogyny, racism, and violence in a recent context: Violence Against Asian American Women Needs To Stop

2) Era Eryilmaz's interview piece on the UN initiative, Girl Up: Girl Up

3) Anushka Mankodi's article on how young women's interests are invalidated: Invalidation of Teenage Girls Interest

Did you enjoy reading Freya McCall's article? Let your friends know by using any of the sharing options below.

Freya McCall

Freya McCall is a high school student from Scotland. She has always had a passion for writing, journalism and performing arts, and is excited to connect with a new online community.