Stories by Women, a selection

| March 23, 2011

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!
-Maya Angelou

As a teacher, it was always a challenge for me to come up with meaningful projects for women’s history month. Of course, I did the obvious things:  read alouds on books about “important” women, posted timelines of important events in womens’ history,  and displayed library reference books of notable female accomplishments.

My kids knew that March was women’s history month and could tell classroom visitors where the thematic materials were housed. But what does it actually mean to try to convey the collective experience of women to a group of 9 year olds? Sure, many of my kids lived in single-parent households, and were all too familiar with the household chores (“woman work,” as it was) that defined our lives for so long.   I sometimes thought we could start the conversation there,  but let’s face it. Frank conversations about the social construction of gender and the economics and politics that support the subsequent inequities were perhaps not the most appropriate way for me to spend our class time.  Certainly not when they were still struggling with drawing inferences.

So each March, predictably, I’d roll out the timeline, teach about the 19th amendment and sing the praises of Marian Anderson, Eleanor Roosevelt, et al hoping that my lessons on  “the fairer sex” were helping posterity render obsolete such derogatory expressions.

One year,  I invited the female family members of my students into class to share a story or life experience with us. The lesson objectives were to teach my kids how to interview, practice taking notes and eventually, write about their experience. I knew I wanted my class to hear personal stories from different women about a variety of subjects. I think I was trying to get them to see past the neat packaging of women’s history month and recognize that it is too complex to be only represented as a timeline of achievements, or memorial to legendary leaders from long ago.

And I didn’t want the boys to be alienated by any of this either. My dating experiences at that time encouraged me to spread the word among the future single men of New York that there are no universal gender truths given to girls at birth on the promise we’ll keep them tucked away in our bras incase of emergency. Women’s history is all of our history and (emphatically) is history in the making. We are not yet at a place where the month should be reconsidered, but I think it fit to celebrate by paying attention to the stories that happen every day, all over the world, all year long.

The stories below (and presumably the women who wrote them) could not be more different from each other. Many of these women are not written about in children’s books or noted in encyclopedias. They have not necessarily invented anything, traveled to space, or become president. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) But their stories have stuck with me for one reason or another–I hope there is a little something in here for whoemever reads this.

Lucy Grealy: “Mirrorings” and “Autobiography of a Body
Lucy Grealy was an Irish-American writer who had half her jaw removed as a child due to cancer. She spent the rest of life in treatment, trying to have her face rebuilt and writing.

Yoko Ono is a Japanese musician, author, activist and artist.

Sylvia Plath: “Mirror”
Plath was a writer and poet.

Nina Simone:  “Four Women”
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, she was a singer, songwriter, pianist among other things.

Alison Bechdel: graphic novel memoir “Fun Home”
Bechdel is a writer known for her comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For.

Patricial Polacco: “The Keeping Quilt
Polacco is an artist and author of children’s books.

bell hooks: Aint I a Woman?
hooks is an author and activist. Here’s the book description from Amazon.

Joni Mitchell“Amelia” (lyrics.)  Mitchell is a Canadian singer/songwriter. Click to watch a performance.

Click to read an interview with Gail Collins and author Stacy Schiff on feminism and mama grizzly bears.
Gail Collins is  journalist and author, well known for work with The New York Times and her book “When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.”

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter. Here is one analysis of
her painting, “The Two Fridas,” 1939. (below right)