Women’s stories, not history

by Alexia Boyarsky

Last year, Andrea Van de Kamp, a savvy business woman and long time college dean who fought for her position because she was part of the “weaker sex,” spoke about the importance of non-profit work.

Just last week, Winona LaDuke, a leading environmentalist and two-time vice-presidential nominee urged us to consider our futures and seek out our inner selves.

What do these three women have in common? One, their gender. And two, their enormous success in their respective fields. Third, not one of them spoke about the history of women’s rights.

And that bothered a lot of people. Starting in my sophomore Choices and Challenges class, I’ve gotten into at least a dozen arguments about what the function of a Women’s History speaker is.

And now, I will say it in plain black and white: it is not to regurgitate the story of the women’s suffrage movement, it is not to lead you through the highlights of the past 1000 years of history from a woman’s perspective, and it is not to mention other famous women from history.

If what we wanted from the Women’s History Assembly was a rehashing of the major turning points from the feminist movement, the most economical move would be to utilize some of the excellent faculty we already have.

I am sure that history teachers Drew Maddock or David Waterhouse, among others, would happily oblige, but that’s not really the point of the assembly, is it?

The speakers we get serve as role models.

They show the girls at the school the potential that is available to them, and they tell of the route that they took to become influential in a world that, despite our best efforts, remains male-dominated.

I agree to a certain extent that LaDuke could have talked more about her struggles as a woman or about her run as a vice-presidential nominee.

I agree with the people who wish that she had spoken more about her fight against nuclear power plants, or her time in jail or speaking in front of the U.N. at 17, but what qualified her as a speaker, and what made her speech important, is the simple fact that she is a woman.

That may seem like a closed-minded view of things, but the fact remains that every woman brings another aspect of history to the table, and her story deserves to be heard.

Not every speaker needs to be the next Hillary Clinton or Condaleezza Rice to tell a dramatic story of their plight and struggle as a woman. We hear a lot of them already.

Instead, I want to hear about what they find important, what they’re working on, what their life path was.

I wasn’t raised on an Indian reservation, I have never been to jail and I haven’t spent my life fighting for a greener environment.

All of those experiences are unique to LaDuke and her imparting them to us is what makes her speech interesting regardless of whether she spoke about being a woman or not.

I dare say that every single female teacher at Harvard-Westlake can give a good lecture about women’s history by the sheer process of telling us their life story.

Women’s history doesn’t only honor the big names, it is also about every woman and the path she takes in her life.

Yes, there were topics that LaDuke could have addressed, but she has a right not to talk about them — she decided to tell us about the environment and her work for it and that’s just as valuable as any lecture on women’s history.