By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in the Santa Monica Star)
When the ancient Romans named March after the God of war, men ruled the world. It would have been hard to imagine then that Joan of Arc, a petite woman, would one day lead a French army to victory, or that March would one day be declared Women’s History Month. Yes, just as “Manuary” is celebrated in January to raise awareness for prostate cancer and “Movember” dedicates November to other male causes, March is now reserved for the glory of women.
The history of women didn’t start out too impressively. The mother of all mothers, Eve, sometimes seems to have been a second thought, an accessory to God’s creation, Adam. Today, we might fear for Eve’s self-esteem as she found out that she was made from Adam’s rib and existed primarily to serve him. There were no historians around to record her reaction, but did she realize her predicament and try to outsmart Adam, turning the tables on him and upsetting the political applecart by tempting him with a certain fruit? Whatever her motive, both Adam and Eve were expelled to a supposedly less perfect world where history, leadership, and innovation are the legacy of men and women alike.
Whatever their accomplishments, Eve’s female descendents inherited various degrees of her beauty, kindness and wisdom. They have used their supportive softer side to nurture the world, raising their young, helping their parents, and, yes, even serving their husbands. Since the beginning of time, women have stood side by side with men. They have made up half our civilization. Yet their contributions to the world have often been minimized.
For centuries, women have fought hard all over the world to have their voices heard. They fought to get an education, to choose their own husband, to vote, to govern, and to be equal to men. While women in some parts of the world have achieved more equality, others are still struggling. Looking back at women’s lives in the past–especially those of our own family members–helps us to understand in a very personal way how our history has been evolving through time.
Take my own family as an example: I had three grandmothers. None of them received any education and all of them had arranged marriages. Dating, falling in love, and going to work were not options for them. They were from well-off families and lived at a time when girls were house-bound and “kept safe,” learning chores such as knitting, sewing, and embroidery.
One of my grandmothers had six-inch-long bound feet and another died of TB at the age of 39. My mother was luckier. She was home-schooled by my grandfather and learned how to read and write. She broke tradition, left home, and got a job. And she married the man she loved. Her only regret was that she never received a formal education. But, she took comfort in the fact that all of her four daughters not only graduated from high school but went on to college. Three earned Master’s Degrees. She was content that her daughters grew up to become professional women and chose their own life paths, something she and her mothers dared not dream.
This March, I challenge every woman to take a look at her own family women’s history. Trace back as many generations of women as possible and discover what they did at various stages of their lives under what kind of historical circumstances. Find out if any great moments in history affected their lives, and vice versa.
Knowing whether our great grandmother ever went to school, lived through a war, or attended a civil-rights demonstration helps us to appreciate our own lives and rights today, and to understand how hard our foremothers fought for us. By educating ourselves about our own history, we modern Eves can take even greater pride in who we are today.
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