As Women’s History Month comes to a close, it is easy for many of us to return to other issues that consume our attention daily. Women have been extolled throughout this special month of honoring, women’s “firsts” have been recognized and commemorated, and our collective desire to see women gain greater equity in all spheres of society has been duly expressed in various media throughout March.
But our awareness of women’s status in all nations, not just in ours, for the purpose of averting discrimination and expanding egalitarianism in all facets of existence must never be delimited to a certain slice of time. We need no boundaries–of time, place, emphasis–to further any worthy cause, and the cause of women’s advancement must be front and center alongside other vital issues, such as social justice.
So how do we maintain unwavering focus on the well-being and progress of half the world’s population, of half of all Americans? As with almost all important issues in civilization, it comes down to each of us as individuals: what we say, what we do, what we value. The counterbalance to “It takes a village” is “Each one, teach one.” What we do collectively is the product of what we do as individuals.
It Starts With “Me”
Each me–me the mother, me the sister, me the classroom teacher, me the neighbor, me the friend, me the spouse, me the boss. Gender is irrelevant regarding each of these “me”’s. What matters is the goal in each me of convincing each female in their lives that she is highly worthy and is never inferior to anyone because of her gender.
My mother and grandmother were my first me’s. They were poor and very hard-working, the daughter and wife of a migrant farm worker who never attended any school and was illiterate except for his ability to write his name. But these were strong women who survived and thrived in whatever limited fashion they could. Grandmother had no schooling at all, and my mother was a high school dropout, but they encouraged my education. They freed me from domestic duties so I could study. They found the funds for my field trips, and my second-hand clarinet, so I could be in the school band and travel throughout the state for performances. They insured my brothers picked me up in the evenings from school so I could stay late, working on the school newspaper or attending rehearsals.
When I was growing up in my ultra-conservative, small Texas town, Latina girls were generally sheltered, over-protected, but my mother and grandmother had faith in my dreams and insured that I had the freedom to be where I needed to be to rise academically. They publicly expressed pride in my achievements, and this encouraged me to continue striving. I was one child out of nine, with seven brothers. My mother and grandmother, both of whom raised me, could have focused all their support on just “the boys,” as was common in my community, in my Latino culture. But they realized the importance of their little girl’s dreams, so they nurtured me and freed me from cultural constraints. My success was their success, and their nurturing was my sustenance.
Luckily, my father fit that mold as well. As did my teachers, and brothers, and neighbors, uncles and aunts. They respected my need to study and achieve. They were glad that I was not getting married as a teenager, as many women of my generation did, dropping out of school to start a family. Implicitly, they were telling me that I could attain whatever goals I pursued, equally with the boys and men in our school, in the local college I attended. Thanks to all of them, I did.
Then It Comes Down to “Us”
If each of us resolves to treat each female in our lives as having no limits to what she can achieve, each of us will help dozens or hundreds of girls be engaged, productive members in society. The ripple effects will be exponential. In each home, each neighborhood, each town, each county and state, the female half of the population will be active participants in moving humanity forward.
Equality is a lie when half are unequal. The critical mass of motivated, energized girls and females taking their proverbial place at the table–as they debate laws in courtrooms, mend broken bodies in hospitals, design rocket ships, negotiate with world leaders on existential and practical issues, and show their competence in matters large and small–will remind us all that honoring and nurturing women is not something to be done in March. It is a necessity of daily life.
Copyright 2016 by Dr. Thelma Reyna. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Thelma T. Reyna is the national award-winning author of 4 books: a short story collection (The Heavens Weep for Us and Other Stories), 2 poetry chapbooks (Breath & Bone; and Hearts in Common); and a full-length collection of her poems, Rising, Falling, All of Us. She edited the Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2015, as well as the 2016 edition of the anthology. Reyna is Poet Laureate of the Altadena Library District. Visit her at www.thelmareyna.com. Photo of Virgen Seamstress copyright by Yolanda López. Women’s History Month image copyrighted by Barrio Dog Productions. All other photos in the public domain.