The downside with observing underappreciated achievements with Black and Women’s History month-long observances is they invariably miss something that was (for someone) very important. That makes something that was underappreciated seem UNappreciated, which is probably not the case.
Here’s an example. Last February (at month’s end), there was a documentary called “Makers: Women Who Make America” on PBS, kicking off Women’s History Month. It was about the evolving image of working women and their roles within families. The film was narrated by Meryl Streep, an indisputable giant in film and champion of strong women being portrayed in three dimensions. Imperfect. Struggling. Growing.
The film talked a fair amount about how the image of women in television and films can help us imagine ourselves differently. We saw Marlo Thomas and Mary Tyler Moore as independent professionals on “That Girl” and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” We saw “Maude” talk about abortion on television for the first time. Not mentioned on the program was “The West Wing,” where we saw Glenn Close portray a judge being vetted for the Supreme Court disclosing that she’d had an abortion. In that episode (admittedly on a program that is a liberal fantasy) she becomes chief justice of the United States.
That omission didn’t bother me. Here’s the one that did – in this program that was narrated by Streep, there was no mention at all of one of her first films, “Kramer vs. Kramer.” In the movie, thought to be a breakthrough at the time, Ted and Joanna Kramer are fighting over custody of their son and the court rules, wrongly, that Joanna Kramer will get full custody. It’s Hollywood, though, so the Kramers work it out in the end (as they never could in the beginning) and informally arrange to share custody.
Presumably the filmmakers didn’t want to distract from the focus on women – women being great, courageous leaders. I get that. Sometimes, and especially in complicated situations, being a leader is mostly about seeing more than one possible right answer and (in rare occurrences) it’s about letting go of some power to get the best solution for everyone involved. Joanna Kramer taught the hard lesson of humility, the need for partnership and the integrity of objectively seeing and admitting when you’ve been wrong. If America’s investment banks had taken that lesson, our economy would be in much better shape right now.
So, to look at women’s history with some integrity and through today’s perspective, it’s not a good time to take a victory lap. To wit:
• We still have an embarrassing level of representation in the Congress (both houses).
• We are still fighting for reproductive rights.
• We carry most of the load in caring for our aging parents (and in-laws).
• We comprise the bulk of minimum-wage workers.
• We are most of the population living in poverty.
For all the attention that an openly gay defensive lineman gets for possible “distractions” to his NFL team, there is almost no possibility that a professional football, basketball or baseball player would be “distracted by” a player raping or beating a woman.
As I watch Wendy Davis running for governor in Texas, I am hopeful that we might be getting to the next level of our struggle, largely because she is providing clear evidence that we are in a struggle. It’s not up to her to carry this burden, though, it is up to each and every one of US.
Happy Women’s History Month. Now, let’s get back to work.
Jean Bolduc is a managing director at Pen & Inc Communications in Chapel Hill. Readers can write her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @jeanbolduc