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An Intersectional Approach to Women's History Month

Every March is dedicated to honoring women’s contributions to U.S. history. However, many women’s contributions and stories are left out of the narrative. Many of the histories we tell during Women’s History Month seem cut from a mono-chromatic cloth that belies the reality of this country’s diversity and true history.

 

This Women’s History Month I invite you, dear reader, along with me to try on an intersectional lens. Now, intersectionality is not a new concept, coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, professor and legal scholar, it describes how race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, and other individual characteristics “intersect” with one another and overlap. These overlaps and intersections can either insulate or expose individuals to greater degrees of privilege, discrimination, opportunity, or challenge. Through this intersectional lens; let's take a look at some unsung heroes of Women’s History Month who despite their exposure to greater degrees of discrimination and challenges have made the world a better place.

Patsy Mink was the first woman of color ever elected to the House of Representatives, and the first Asian American woman to serve in Congress. Representing her home state of Hawaii, Mink was elected to the House of Representatives a mere 5 years after Hawaii became a state!  She would go on to be one of the authors and sponsors of the seminal Title IX law that prevents discrimination based on sex in educational institutions.

Martha P Johnson; an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, played a crucial role in the historic Stonewall uprising while also founding an organization to protect, advocate for, and house homeless queer youth in New York. As a trans woman of color, she also advocated for the inclusion of trans folks, drag queens, and transvestites in the Gay Liberation Front movement.

Dolores Huerta is one of the most influential labor activists of the 20th century; known not only for her work in the Chicano civil rights movement but also as a co-founder of the United Farm Worker’s Association. She fought tirelessly for economic opportunities and improved working conditions for many of California’s Latinx community. 

Claudette Colvin, at just 15 years old in a brave act of civil disobedience; refused to give up her seat on a public bus to a white passenger. Claudette recalls that watershed moment: “It felt like Sojourner Truth was on one side pushing me down, and Harriet Tubman was on the other side of me pushing me down. I couldn’t get up.” This was nearly a year before Rosa Parks would follow in her footsteps. Claudette would become a plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case Browder v. Gayle which in 1965 permanently ended bus segregation in the State of Alabama. 

And so, in this Women’s History Month the words of the indomitable Audre Lorde, a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” ring in my ears: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” I find myself in a place of unspeakable gratitude to Patsy, Marsha, Dolores, Claudette, and the millions of other women who have made history. And I am compelled to consider the shackles that remain on so many women through a lens of intersectionality and how that threatens too, my freedom. 

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