March 20, 2000
Volume 52, No. 25
The women we come from
by Ali Crown, director, and Alicia Starkman, special program assistant at Emory Women's Center.
"These Are the Women I Come From," by Bonnie Keen and Tori Taff
While historians and scholars have only recently begun to explore women's history, we know that across the continents for centuries, women have been telling their own stories and the stories of the women they came from. During national Women's History Month this year at Emory, we are celebrating "The Women We Come From."
As with each year's theme, "The Women We Come From" was chosen by the Emory Women's History Month Committee, a group of 25 to 40 women from across campus who convene from September through December to plan the programs. These are the women we come from.
The celebration, which has become one of the most interdisciplinary series of events at Emory, is designed to honor the many women who are our role models and who give us the inspiration to move forward in the footsteps they forged. Women's accomplishments, largely written out of history through the ages, take their place in the spotlight during March in a national observance first proclaimed by Congress in 1978.
Until the establishment of the Women's Center, Women's History Month was not observed at Emory. There were 10 of us in the group of women who convened in the fall of 1992 to plan the University's first celebration. We had very little funding but a great deal of enthusiasm, and we crafted 19 stellar programs for the following spring.
Each year, as the Women's Center grew, so grew Women's History Month at Emory; this year's program boasts of no fewer than 38 engaging events from which to choose.
At Emory we have not only created a grand traditionwe have clearly fulfilled a need. And we have not only created a phenomenal programwe have built a community around it. The hundreds of people who attend our events every March come not just from the campus but from all parts of Atlanta.
There are about 500 campus-based women's centers across the country. Some of us are fortunate enough to have funding in our budgets for programs like Women's History Month, while others have little or no money to work with. But, by and large, that doesn't stop us; we women are, above all, creative and collaborative. We create partnerships across our campuses and collaborate with other universities as well. This is another way in which we build community.
We do this because we know that we must tell the stories of the multitudes of outrageous acts and great achievements of the women come from. We do this because we know how important it is to remember that for too long we women functioned outside the realm of history, not only lacking role models but also rarely being allowed to become heroes. In remembering the women we come from, we gain inspiration for own lives and the lives of those who come from us.
Because of the difference in our ages, the two of us have approached the women's movement, the birth and flourishing of women's studies, and the celebration of Women's History Month from very different perspectives. The older one of us, who comes from the second wave of feminism, entered the women's movement as an adult through a very personal experience centered on reproductive rights. Friends all around were in similar processes of conversion, while others seemed to come via a long, organic journey.
Though we might have identified our mothers as our role models, very few of us claimed our feminism through them. We listened to each other's stories, often very different but usually with shared themes, and thus we experienced a kind of rebirth. We worked to pass, enforce and restore legislation to prohibit sex discrimination on the job and in schools. We worked fiercely to win free control over our bodies and access to full reproductive rights.
Young women of today were born into a feminism with many different images. We are known as the "third wave." Some of us learned from our mothers, our teachers, our sisters and from new texts. Few of us question our access to education and other historically white male privileges. We recognize that the women's movement has given us more choices. And though many of us are trying to redefine the concepts of feminism, we know that the work is not over.
Each year when we celebrate Women's History Month, both of us are reminded how much of women's history has been a story of restriction, exclusion and anonymity. The historical exclusion of women from higher education, for example, still has lingering effects on students, faculty and staff on college campuses across the country and the world.
Emory is certainly no exception. On this campus, as on others, Women's History Month is a time when we call the community together to remember the brave deeds of the many women who rejected society's messages. These are the women who paved the way. These are the women we come from.