A Meditation on Women’s History

By Sidney Wegener

Not long ago, I found myself in an debate over what women’s history is with a woman who was white, cisgender, heterosexual, able bodied, and very wealthy. Her argument was that women’s history meant “all women” and there should be no need to differentiate between the histories of Black women and white women or trans women and cis women. In response, I argued that without acknowledging intersectional identities among women identified people, many women’s histories would be erased or overwritten. The room was very loud, so bits of our statements and rebuttals were lost in the noise. After growing increasingly frustrated with the conversation, I finally had to say “we will have to agree to disagree.” She clearly did not intend to listen to any other perspective than her own; that Black women and white women won the right to vote simultaneously when the 19th amendment was passed in 1920. While I appreciated her recognition of Asian and Native American women explicitly barred from voting, I felt that there was a grave misunderstanding of Black women’s history. At the end of the day however, neither of our core arguments were entirely wrong. Women’s history should encompass all women’s history, but it remains critical to recognize that not every woman’s history is the same. This mediation on women’s history attempts to encourage readers to celebrate both solidarity and allyship amongst women who experience the world in different ways.

It is integral to contemplate how we understand the word “woman.” Often times it is read with theinvisible adjectives of white, heterosexual, cisgendered, able bodied, middle class attached to it. These frequently unacknowledged assumptions that underpin the meaning of “woman,” particularly in America, are the reason why it is important to implement intersectionality into women’s history. Intersectionality means looking at women as more than the word “woman.” There are many people who identify fluidly or by another aspect of themselves first; rarely are some aspects of their identity separable. Women are multidimensional and this month is a time to explore, celebrate, respect, and love the infinite ways in which we exist in the world. The term“women ” universalizes all women, but not all women share the same story. At the end of this article, I have provided various sources expressing intersectionality under the umbrella identity of woman. I hope to provide material that bridges some understanding between women’s differences and expand the celebration of community during International Women’s History Month.

When women’s experiences are depicted as universal, the identity of “woman” becomes a tool of erasure and works to invalidate those women who do not fit the common narrative. For example, when we consider the fight for women’s reproductive rights intersex and transgender people are often excluded from how the topic is discussed amongst cisgender women. [1] Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that reproductive rights are often synonymous with abortion rights, erasing the long history of forced sterilization on Indigenous and Black women against their will and/or without their knowledge. [2] Women who fight for equal pay in public or professional labor spheres are often white, cisgender, heterosexual, and middle-upper class. Due to this socio-economic agency, women who hold professional careers frequently hire working-class women of color as domestic laborers in order to ease their own double-burden. [3] When we speak of domestic violence and intimate partner abuse, straight relationships often dominate the conversation, which excludes abusive same-sex or gender queer relations between women. [4] A commonly universalized women’s experience is  sexual assault. But how common is it to recognize that Native American and Indigenous women face the highest rates of sexual violence, often at the hands of non-Native or Indigenous men. [5] Universalizing women’s history and experiences can serve to unite us across race, sexuality, class, and more. However, such homogenization of women’s struggles inevitably results in erasure and exclusion of women who are Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, lesbian/queer, transgender, working-class/impoverished, disabled, aneurotypical, and many other intesectional identities that do not fit into a single narrative. If Women’s History Month is for all women, then all women’s experiences must be validated and respected.

Women’s Intersectional Narratives

  • Kai Cheng Thom’s fiction novel, Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girls Confabulous Memoir, is a breathtakingly magical read on the life of an Asian trans girl who is nothing short of fierce.
  • Rebecca Johnson and Tanya Quakawoot are founders of IndigiLez, a Leadership and Support Group for Aboriginal/Indiginous lesbians and same sex attracted women, located in Queensland, Australia. Their website contains information for worldwide access to support, news, and events.
  • Mikaela Moody, trans, gay, and disabled actvist shares her experiences with PinkNews, a United Kingdom news outlet for queer and trans communities, in an interview titled, “This is what it’s like to be a disabled, disfigured, gay, trans woman.” There is also a video of the interview posted in the article.
  • HuffPost recently published an article titled, “Muslim Women Break Down the Myths Around Hair and Hijab,” which features seven different women from the United States and one from the United Arab Emirates. 
  • TalkSpace published a brief article written by Dr. Marika Lindholm titled, “8 Mental Health Challenges Single Moms Face,” which outlines some of the hardships working-class mothers face and where they can seek support.
  • If you are unaware of the epidemic in violence committed against Black trans women in the United States, the Human Rights Campaign website features some facts on 2019 homicide rates. Equally, if not more, important is the list of the names and life details of the women whose lives were taken out of hatred. Please be aware that this site may be triggering in terms of details on violence committed against trans women.

Sources

[1] “Transgender Healthcare and Reproductive Justice.” Now.org. April, 2018. https://now.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Transgender-Healthcare.pdf

[2] “Unwanted Sterilization and Eugenics Programs in the United States.” PBS. January 29, 2016. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in-the-united-states/

[3] “Breaking Down Domestic Labor: Gender, Race, Class and Sexuality.” The ReVisionist. December 6, 2019. https://slcwhblog.com/2019/12/06/breaking-down-domestic-labor-gender-race-class-and-sexuality/

[4] “Domestic Violence Is Not Straight Violence.” The ReVisionist. October 21, 2019. https://slcwhblog.com/2019/10/21/domestic-violence-is-not-straight-violence/
[5] “Murdered and Missing Native American Women Challenge Police and Courts.” The Center for Public Integrity. October 29, 2018. https://publicintegrity.org/politics/murdered-and-missing-native-american-women-challenge-police-and-courts/

Sidney is a first year Master’s Candidate studying Women’s History at Sarah Lawrence College. Their academic interests include lesbianism and lesbian history in American from the 1920s to the 1930s. They are currently pursuing many different avenues for research in U.S. history pertaining to women’s and queer studies and looking forward to working on a thesis related to the linguistic and social evolution of female sexuality.