#IAmForChange – “Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”: Sexism In Schools and History, and How to Fix It

“Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History”: Sexism In Schools and History, and How to Fix It

By S. Guzzi-Graber

“Savannah, you throw like a girl…”

“You seem mad today? What? Are you on your period?”

These are statements many in our school have heard. These statements push us to the margins, demean our athletic accomplishments, our emotions, and our voice. I come to you today not to complain but to pose a solution.

Representation by learning about women and people of color is essential to our development as individuals. 

Truthfully, there are so many influential women in history that I could never pick just one. 

Time and time again, women have been left out of history, inside the books and out. As Madi Eschenbach, a fellow NAI student, said during a student-led International Women’s Day event, “if society chooses to not look, they will not see it.” She continued by saying that women are notably marginalized. 

There are many women who have been subjected to this historical marginalization. I have a few in mind that have exceptional stories that I believe should be shared.

First is Helen Keller, an American author, activist, and educator. She overcame what many could never imagine: being deaf, blind, and mute. Once learning how to do certain tasks and use her words (in braille), she began to write of her disabilities–which was a taboo subject at the time. She continued this work throughout her life by advocating for the compassionate and just treatment for the disabled–fighting to have them removed from asylums that dehumanized their existence. How many individuals with disabilities have we learned of, especially one that has accomplished so much? 

Helen Keller Art Print by Greg Joens
Helen Keller, Greg Joens

The answer: too few. 

There is also Eleanor Roosevelt. Now you may think, well, we learn about her; but, she is not just Franklin Roosevelt’s wife. In 1936, she wrote articles in the daily newspaper, My Day. These articles included information such as “child welfare, housing reforms, and equal rights for women and racial minorities.” After Franklin D. Roosevelt’s death, she worked as a delegate to the United Nations where she was a chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights. Many women are so much more than the people they are acquainted with; this should be acknowledged.

Eleanor Roosevelt Original Art by first lady of the United States ::  PicassoMio
Eleanor Roosevelt, Marco Mark

Gloria Steinem is an American feminist, political activist, and editor who was an advocate of the women’s liberation movement in the 60s and 70s. Her drive for activism intensified, especially her involvement in feminism when she attended a Redstockings meeting (a radical feminist group). She has contributed to “breaking the boundaries of gender” and will continue to enact change. While I know the term feminism has been politicized and in some cases stolen and used as a negative, we must ensure that generations to come are aware of what was fought for and what was accomplished. Feminism is about equality and cannot be allowed to be co-opted as anything else.

Gloria Steinem, a Woman Like No Other - The New York Times
Gloria Steinem, A Woman Like No Other, New York Times

The last woman I would like to mention is Elizabeth Eckford. She was a part of the Little Rock Nine, a group of 9 African American students who braved racial epithets and attacks to attend an all-white school in Arkansas after the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case declared segregation inherently unequal. In a famous image from the time, Eckford can be seen entering school alone, her face stoic as a crowd of angry white students and adults harass her. Her courage–just a high school student–sparked the beginning of racial integration in the education system.

Elizabeth Eckford Painting by Matthew Sanderson
Elizabeth Eckford, Matthew Sanderson

Despite the richness and inspiration found in the tales of these historic women, a majority of the people we learn about in school are white men. We learn so much through their perspectives that it misses essential parts of history. Without diverse perspectives, we lack the other sides of the story and cannot determine the truth for ourselves. We should be the change that creates equality and recognition of everyone. Women–of all races, sexualities, and abilities–should be more present in the curriculum. Teaching more about incredible women who greatly impacted the course of history will empower female students and encourage their non-female counterparts to see women as leaders and innovators. Having very male-oriented lessons deprives students of all genders from appreciating the important work of forgotten individuals. 

There is so much about our world that we have to research ourselves. I realize there are sensitive topics, but they must be heard. The thing is that Black History Month, Women’s History Month, etc. are all only really constrained to a month. What about the rest of the year? The eight other months in a school year? We need to be educated on topics that affect our lives.

We cannot continue to hide behind phrases like “this is too sensitive”. The outcome of these discussions will be a student body that is more accepting and inclusive–a student body that does not hide behind a mask.

#IAmForChange because we must have an accurate accounting of our past in order to truly understand and accept each other to make a better future.

There are certain statements, as I’ve mentioned before, that are demeaning and misogynistic, though they are all too commonly said in the district–phrases like “you throw like a girl”, or if a woman is in a relatively bad mood, someone may ask “are you on your period or something.” There are many more, and also it is not just women that can be affected, for there is toxic masculinity present in the district. I believe there should be changes in disciplinary actions to enact change.

This proves why the school needs to create curriculum reforms. Students are making a change–will the district join us?


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