While the meanings are many, several matters come to the forefront for me as I think about this question. Here are a few of my own reflections:
Celebrating Women’s History Month means recognizing women participate in history. While this statement may seem uncontroversial, it is, on occasion and in some contexts, a revolutionary notion. In some contexts, women—both as individuals and the term itself—have been understood as outside of history or culture, as universal or possessing essential characteristics that transcend time. Celebrating Women’s History Month challenges this. It reminds us that we celebrate women’s histories rather than a unitary history.
Moreover, asking what it means to celebrate can help us move beyond “celebratory history” per se to a more engaged, critical reflection on those histories. Doing so calls us to recognize the flaws as well as the successes of historical figures. To remember that recognizing women’s role in history asks us to move not just from a “great men” approach to history to a “great women” approach, but beyond that, it asks us to rethink what is worthy of celebration or counts as greatness, and to move toward a more inclusive approach to understanding our past, present, and future.
And, such an approach pushes us to what Kimberle Crenshaw taught us to call an intersectional approach. While we have come to use her term to refer to ways particular axes of diversity meet in lives and thus to re-emphasize the immense variety of women’s histories, Crenshaw reminds us to look to the structures that shape lives as also part of women’s history.
So, as I write this I think of Crenshaw and Gerda Lerner, and many more. I think of two quotations on which I often ruminate:
Anonymous was a Woman. (a modification of Virginia Woolf’s point)
One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman. (Simone de Beauvoir)
Across a lifetime, the meaning of these quotations, for me, has changed. So, too, has the meaning of Women’s History Month.
Yes, as we celebrate, we ask questions. We always will. We continue to learn, to build, to move forward grounded in critical inquiry and hope.