Remember those minutes-long social media videos of folks quarantine clapping for frontline workers? And for the medical staff and carers looking after droves upon droves of COVID patients? Do you also remember that most of the ones getting the applause were women? If our global health crisis has made one thing clear, it’s how much we depend on—and take for granted—the recognized and unrecognized work women of all cultures do to keep societies going.
Cases in point. Kate Washington exposes the cultural expectation of women to take on the all-consuming role caregiver in Already Toast. Rosemarie Day shows how 80% of women make all healthcare decisions for their families in Marching Toward Coverage. Look back in the archives of human life and you’ll see repeats of this story.
In the spirit of this year’s theme for Women’s History Month, Providing Healing, Providing Hope, here’s a batch of recommended reading and book-length shout-outs to the women who’ve done so, in the past and today. History would not be what it is without them.
“If beauty reproduces the social order, then beauty trends can shift to include or exclude certain groups—and we may be in that transition now. Studying makeup reveals why these preferences are in place, who sets them, and who benefits. There is no way to divorce beauty from cultural norms and power structures; looking closer at the tools of beauty is a step toward dismantling those systems. It’s time to take that step.”
“The cultural role of caregiving is in many ways an extension of the everyday forms of gender imbalance that exist in heterosexual relationships . . . Certainly not all women are subjugated in this manner, and far from all men expect to so subjugate us. This model, however, does offer some illumination of a cultural preconception that operates, I think, unconsciously for many people—and a dynamic I personally experienced: the expectation that caregivers give freely of their entire selves, and more so when we are women.”
“In 2006, an activist from New York, Tarana Burke, suggested that women should band together to combat pervasive stories of sexual abuse and assault by sharing what she called ‘Me Too’ stories, though Burke’s idea would not fully take hold until 2017. That year, other women finally began to speak out about how other powerful federal judges had committed sexual harassment and other forms of misconduct. Many men cloaked in the power of their black robes seemed to have gotten away with it.”
“Why aren’t there enough reentry programs across the country to address the specific issues formerly incarcerated women face? With eighty-one thousand women released from state prisons annually, we can’t afford to wait . . . Even those who describe themselves as ‘tough on crime’ must acknowledge that it’s more fiscally and socially responsible to support women and prevent future crime than to keep locking them up. Of course, fundamental to this entire discussion is the commitment to investing in these women and their communities before they become involved with the criminal justice system.”
“We have these images in our heads of what disability looks like and what counts. But many of the women I’ve met have made me realize that disability is largely about the world's failure to make space for you.”
—Michele Lent Hirsch
“Women are more likely to be caregivers for children and elderly parents, and they’re more likely to be patients themselves. This means that women are the ones who interact with the healthcare system most often and most intimately. In fact, according to the US Department of Labor, women make approximately 80 percent of all healthcare decisions for their families. As a result, underinsurance and skyrocketing medical costs represent more than a national health crisis; they’re a civil rights issue, and the next battlefront for the feminist movement.”
“In our popular imagination, mothers are somehow always present—loving tirelessly, sacrificing constantly, protecting fiercely, and making the work of housekeeping and family nourishment as neat and invisible as the pressed sheets of a freshly made bed. The role of the immigrant nanny is to facilitate this ideal, but it comes at a cost. The choices she makes are limited by the realities she encounters—regional inequity exacerbated by globalism and the neoliberal policies meant to manage it, labyrinthine immigration practices that refuse to account for the reality of ‘the female underside of globalization,’ and maternity and childcare policies in the US that willfully ignore the social and economic value of childrearing.”
—Elizabeth Cummins Muñoz
“The idea for this book grew out of my long interest in women’s lives. Today, as during previous waves of feminism, it is again acknowledged that women are the forgotten sex and that many of their deeds and influence have been dismissed or at best reduced to historical footnotes. Unfortunately, this loss of information has left a frustrating gap in our understanding about the lives of men as well. That became painfully obvious in the early 1990s as I first read traditional accounts of Ben Franklin’s life. The questions abounded. Why didn’t Deborah accompany him to England? What led her to remain in Philadelphia, far from the man she adored? Was that her decision, or Ben’s? Was their marriage filled with dissension? Was their separation an eighteenth-century version of divorce?”
—Nancy Rubin Stuart
“I want patriarchy to know that feminism is rage unleashed against its centuries of crimes against women and girls around the world, crimes that are justified by ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’ and ‘it’s just the way things are,’ all of which are euphemisms for ‘this world is run by men for the benefit of men.’ . . . I also want feminism to be led by the nonwhite and the queer, who don’t have the luxury of fighting only misogyny. We must fight the multiple systems of oppressions that patriarchy often intertwines itself with: racism, bigotry, homophobia, transphobia, classism, ableism, and ageism.”
“Reproductive justice has three primary principles: the right not to have a child, the right to have a child, and the right to parent in safe and healthy environments. It is an intersectional approach grounded in the multiple challenges and social realities that women face during their entire reproductive lives. This intersectional approach also recognizes the moral complexity of individual women’s life situations, rejects the position of moral absolutism, and holds that moral meaning and value can only be measured within the context of an existing moral life.”
—Rebecca Todd Peters
“In Hamer’s framing, no one could truly experience freedom if others in that society were constrained. She reiterated this message on a number of occasions, underscoring the danger of being complicit in the face of injustice. ‘Until I am free,’ she boldly told the mostly white audience members at the University of Wisconsin in 1971, ‘you are not either.’”
—Keisha N. Blain
“This, in the end, is what matters: not that we stand proudly in all our monstrousness every day but that we find small ways to gestate dissent and deviation, to nurse and nurture the things that are supposed to be wrong with us until they grow into something great. This is our strength: that each of us has the capacity to be not only a monster but a mother of monsters. We can birth from our own bodies every one of men’s worst fears”
“Morgan’s demand that Black history receive a place in the school curriculum continues to hold relevance today, almost a century after she began teaching. Her conviction that the history of Black America must be acknowledged in the school curriculum anticipated the demands of civil rights workers in the 1950s, Black Power activists in the 1960s, and multiculturalists in the 1980s and 1990s.”
“It is time, once and for all, to dismantle the gods of Hollywood to whom we have all sacrificed too much for far too long. It is time to think and act radically about building a different kind of future for the industry that shapes our culture—not only for the women being actively hurt inside the film industry but also for those outside it, whose careers, relationships, purchasing decisions, and sense of self are shaped by the stories our industry is feeding them.”
—Naomi McDougall Jones