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American women are on the forefront of a movement for change (Op-Ed)

March 10, 2017

Originally published in The Baltimore Sun March 9, 2017

There is a movement for change that is happening in this country, and women are at the forefront of it. It is an incredible time to be a woman and, by extension, to be a girl. It is also exhausting, and it is hard work. It is a time of high hopes and great expectations.

We are standing tall giving ourselves permission to jump at the sun and say out loud that we are brilliant, resilient and we are here, fully present and accountable to this moment in history. We are protesting, organizing and making our voices heard throughout this world. The last two social movements in this country were founded and organized by women: Black Lives Matter was founded by three black women, and both the 2017 Women’s March (the largest United States protest in history) and Wednesday’s “A Day Without a Woman” protest were organized by women. We are using our pens, our voices, our art and our wallets to confront and dismantle racism and sexism and poverty and despair and violence.

Though the momentum for change is new, the work we are doing is not. Women have been our own champions for decades, since before Abigail Adams, the wife and adviser to President John Adams, urged the Founding Fathers to remember the ladies (obviously they ignored her). Women’s history and women making history is American history and a vital part of the American story. The contributions and sacrifices of women are part of the mortar that holds and binds our nation together.

We are now in the midst of celebrating Women’s History Month, a time when we highlight and celebrate the contributions of all women to events in history and contemporary society. We remember the women who worked to end American slavery; who challenged William Blackstone’s 1765 document, “The Rights of Persons”; and who pressured Congress to pass and ratify the 19th Amendment finally granting women the right to vote in 1920. We remember the contributions of women who acted individually and collectively to advocate for equal pay, for equal say and for our safety. Women who showed us every day that we have to fight, sometimes in the face of anger and humiliation, to be heard. Women who remind us, as Angela Davis once said, that we have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world.

The first Women’s History Week was celebrated in 1978 in Sonoma, Calif., and begin to spread across the country. Two years later, President Jimmy Carter issued a presidential proclamation declaring the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The proclamation states in part that, “From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.” By 1987, Congress issued a resolution designating March as Women’s History Month. Today, it is celebrated all over the world and corresponds with International Women’s Day (March 8).

At the same time, there is still so much work to be done. Even though women are 51 percent of the population and currently make up 57 percent of the students in colleges or universities, we are still fighting for basic rights:

• Women are paid only 80 cents for every dollar paid to men for full-time year round work, and for women of color, the wage gap is even larger;

• Only 20 percent of Congress, 27 percent of U.S. college presidents, and 33 percent of U.S. state and federal judges are female;

• And each year, more than 300,000 women are raped, 2 million are battered, and more than 1,000 women are killed by their husbands or boyfriends.

This must change, and this is how we do it: We recognize that men still run the world and work to change and confront that truth; we focus on closing the gender gap and breaking all glass ceilings; and we raise our daughters and our sons as feminists, help them to find their voices, and send them forward to change the world.

Karsonya Wise Whitehead (; Twitter: @kayewhitehead) is an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland and the creator of #ADayWithoutAWoman K16 Syllabus. A version of this editorial was aired as a public commentary on WYPR 88.1, Baltimore’s NPR station.

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