March is Women’s History Month. The Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) asked students, faculty and staff around campus to talk about the importance of this month, in their own words, through the lenses of their identities and experiences.
by Kianna Notermann
Meet Angela Carter. Angela Carter is a 6th-year PhD Candidate in Feminist Studies at the University of Minnesota. In undergrad, she was a Ronald E. McNair scholar, and upon earning her BA Angela became the first person in her family to earn a college degree. Her dissertation explores the dominant discourses of trauma and PTSD through a feminist-disability studies analytic. Angela is passionate about teaching and loves the opportunities available to her in GWSS to constantly evolve and grow as an educator. Outside of her academic endeavors, Angela enjoys drinking too much coffee, playing with her puppies, and watching minor league baseball. Here is her story:
“I think in [Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies] classes, the importance of women’s history is thinking about what history gets remembered and taught and what history gets left out, and who really benefits from that system. In a lot of our classes, students often say things like, ‘Why was I never taught this?’ or, ‘Why haven’t I heard about this before now?’ and that’s always a great conversation because I think it’s really important to say, ‘Yeah, why HAVEN’T we been taught this?’ or, ‘What does it mean that we’re not taught so much of the history of our country or our world or our society?’ I think Women’s History Month is important because it encourages us to take a moment and reflect as a society, as a culture, as a campus and think about how we talk about history, what history matters, whose history matters, and who gets left out. Those exclusions and inclusions shape the way we think about ourselves in the world that we’re in.
For me, as a Feminist Studies Ph.D candidate, I think a lot about history, specifically the history that I wasn’t taught and how that shaped how I came to think about myself and my place in the world. Then, as I’m learning and unlearning and relearning things through my education, that all has changed how I think about my place in the world and the place of other people like me, particularly people from marginalized and disenfranchised communities. Like the fact that I was never taught about the Disability Rights Movement — I had no idea that there were vast social movements and great numbers of critical thinkers and organizers working for Disability Justice decades before I was born. I was just never taught that. Then I became disabled, and society told me what that meant and that disability means all of these tragic things. Later, I learned about the movement and disability justice and amazing people like Corbett O’Toole, who was, and still is, a big leader in disability issues organizing in the Bay Area. I got the chance to meet her in person and learned about women and organizers and activists that were thinking about disability differently. It changed the way I thought about myself and my body and my place as a disabled activist and scholar.
The more that I learn about history, the more that I learn about so many people’s voices who have been left out or who haven’t been considered that have done really amazing things to help shape our society. One of the biggest push-backs on things like Women’s History Month or Black History Month is people questioning why there isn’t a “Men’s History Month” or a “White History Month” but history, as we’re taught, is predominantly white men’s history. What these [Women’s and Black History] months do is not say, “Here are a few days or one calendar month of the year to think about women or people of color,” but signal to us how we should be thinking about history in general and push us to think about who gets left out, and how that all shapes our future. Another important aspect of Women’s History Month is to not let it become “White Women’s History Month.” It’s really important that when we think about women’s history, we think intersectionally. We need to think about women of color, we need to think about indigenous women, we need to think about poor and working class women, disabled women, trans women, GLBT women, and so on. That’s one of my biggest critiques of Women’s History Month because so often it gets mobilized in campaigns on social media or even in some libraries, despite well-intending people, it turns into “White Women’s History Month” and then we become segregated. For example, Black History Month is about race and Women’s History Month is about gender, in terms of female identities, but it’s important that we think broadly and intersectionally about how these things intertwine and that we work as activists, scholars, and changemakers on this campus and beyond to make Women’s History Month be about looking at all of women’s voices, not just a select few. There are amazing white feminists and women in history, but so much is looked over when we only focus on them.”
[Header Image Credit: Kianna Notermann, 2017]