In honor of this year’s Women’s History Month, on March 11, 2018 the New York Times made a move to correct their longstanding emphasis on male accomplishments by publishing a special supplement entitled, “Overlooked.”This section celebrates 12 women of achievement who never made it into the Times obituary pages.

I welcome the Times “better late than never” effort, but it carries a cautionary note. As long as women’s history celebrations limit their scope to outstanding individual women, cultural icons like Sylvia Plath or Diana Arbus, we lose sight of the importance of popular women’s movements. It’s ordinary women banding together that have changed history.

Women power, Washington, DC, Jan. 2017, protesting Trump’s anti-woman platform

While contemporary women recognize the importance of building movements, like #metoo, we don’t always step back to study how feminist movements throughout history have made a difference and to absorb the lessons of our foremothers.

A Suffragette march in support of the women’s vote
Feminist Historian, Gerda Lerner (1920–2013)

In 1838 Sarah Grimke, a Quaker and abolitionist published a feminist version of the Bible where she interpreted the fall as showing Adam and Eve equally guilty, challenging the view that Eve was Adam’s subordinate. I can only imagine the rancor that ensued when Grimke wrote that the Biblical interpretation of the sexes was “no more than an arbitrary opinion.”

Feminist theologians of all faiths continue to struggle for female equality. While progress has been made some battles endure. Increasingly women lead congregations in the Christian and Jewish faiths. The Episcopal Church admitted women to the priesthood in 1977, but the Catholic Church continues to reject women for the priesthood.

Women striking for fair wages, c. 1930’s

In her groundbreaking book, Toward a New Psychology of Women, Jean Baker Miller describes women as affiliative by nature, meaning women tend to find their voices and gain empowerment in the community of other women. This sentiment is powerfully expressed in Helen Reddy’s enduring 1972 song, “I am Woman:”

I am woman, hear me roar

In numbers too big to ignore

This post was published on on March 13, 2018

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