International Women's Month
March has been International Women’s Month since Congress declared it in 1987. But how have men helped women’s progress from the inception of the women’s movement to today?
Long before International Women’s Month was established, there were women who had careers that became caretakers after marriage and giving birth. One of the most famous was the first organizer of the Seneca Falls 1848 Women’s Rights Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Stanton was a working woman who chose to stay home, not fully knowing the impact and consequences of her decision. She wrote about women’s practical difficulties of spending all day with only servants or children, the discontent and weariness from the amount of work at home. Her newspaper ad originally called for other adult women to join her in the small town her husband had moved the family to so she’d have someone to talk to about what she was experiencing.
A journalist and abolitionist leader, her husband was often at work for weeks at a time, very much like the men today that put in 70 hours just to keep up. He empathized with the parallels between the predicament of slaves and women at the time and introduced her to the idea of reform movements.
With a Little Help from Our Men
Surprisingly, Stanton made clear in her speeches that women’s enemy wasn’t men, but “bad principles”. In fact, her husband funded her efforts, as did the husbands of most of the women of her day, as they couldn’t own property of their own. Mary Wollstonecraft, Julia Ward Howe, Margaret Sanger, Angelina Grimke, Margaret Fuller and Ernestine Rose were all married and loved by their men. Most of them had children as well. Stanton herself had seven while she continued a career as a writer and speaker.
What they wanted was to use their intellect in pursuits other than home life, so they pursued change through industry in the political arena with full coaching and mentoring of the men in their lives. For example, Robert Owen, a philosopher and mentor of Mary Wollstonecraft and others was a big supporter of the women’s movement. A well known judge, Stanton’s father sent his daughter to be educated and also let her listen in on his law cases. Outwardly or behind the scenes, men play a huge role even today.
Good for the Goose, Good for the Gender?
Unfortunately, in pursuing the right to be fully human, the only example that women had was men. This is why the movement often confuses human rights with men’s rights. Because there was no discussion about the rights that men didn’t already have, a vision was never formed by both genders of what the men were also missing out on.
Men today still flock to risky careers that put their lives in danger. They still aren’t able to visualize what full participation in fatherhood is versus full participation at work. They have to make their way blindly through decisions on being the breadwinner, allowing their partner to be breadwinner, or dropping out entirely.
True, women are no longer completely dependent upon men. But neither is it correct to suggest that the only way women can find themselves or personal success is completely independent of men.
No, we can all breathe a sign of relief that in fact the most accurate description of men and women is interdependent. The most successful women often credit men with their ability to have an outstanding career in leadership be it a family member or coworker. Likewise, most men who have hired or mentored women find that it has improved their own career success to have her on his side.
Extending this past the realm of the workplace, in the realm of personal relationships or intimacy interdependence becomes indispensable. Gender determines reproduction, not relationships. And so this month, let’s not forget that our best chance for improving our condition is to continue to redefine roles for both men and women while recognizing and encouraging men who have supported a fuller humanity.