Women’s History Month began as a week. It was 1981, and though the Equal Rights Amendment had failed to pass, Congress designated seven days to recognize and celebrate the contributions of women to our nation’s history and character. Which was swell of them. In 1987, this appreciation was expanded to an entire month.
In 2009, it’s apropos to wonder if such a special designation is still needed. The range of possibilities for what women can accomplish has expanded, and in some ways (such as college attendance and achievement), they’re pulling ahead of men. So, we’re good, right? Probably don’t need Women’s History Month anymore. Everything’s equal.
Well, that depends. Because sexism is less overt than it was through much of the 20th century, it can appear to be nonexistent. But occasions like Women & Creativity 2009 would indicate that there are still needs to be met. The absence of overt and organized oppression, events such as this seem to say, isn’t the equivalent of equality.
Presented by the National Hispanic Cultural Center, Women & Creativity 2009 seeks to forge a space to highlight the innovative impact of women. Shelle Sanchez, director of education for the NHCC, says she “thought it would be wonderful to celebrate the creative women in our community—art makers, musicians, entrepreneurs, activists, etc.—during Women's History Month.” She says the festival is about “taking the time to celebrate and encourage the contributions women are making now while we also remember historical contributions.”
Women & Creativity 2009 is a monthlong series of events around Albuquerque and Santa Fe that ranges from comedy to dance to lectures on organization. That’s because, as Sanchez sees it, nurturing expression is rooted in the collaboration among disparate elements that ally to shape a cohesive whole. To her mind, that includes the more than two dozen local businesses and arts and education organizations that have contributed to bringing the festival to life. And so, Miriam Ortiz y Pino’s workshop on eliminating clutter, “It’s Time to Create. Now, Where Did I Put My Muse?” is a natural fit for a conference focused on the arts. It also lends itself to the particularly exciting irony that women today seem to need to be taught how to clean their homes.
One of the largest events of the series is “Weaving Ourselves Whole: A Gathering of Women of Color” on Saturday, March 7, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center. Gina Diaz, one of a dozen women organizing the event, explains that “women of color” is a term born of the ’80s, a political term that came “out of a particular struggle for social justice that aims to reveal the pervasiveness of gender, race, class and sexual subordination.”
While the women’s rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s helped to produce a radical shift in our cultural perception of the very definition of what it is to be female, it largely did so for middle-class white women. Diaz says that she and the organizers “feel that women of color have historically been marginalized and that we need to create spaces where we can have dialogue, share resources and skills, network, challenge and support one another, be creative, and celebrate.”
She addresses concerns that such an event could be seen as exclusionary by referring to some of her own, and others’, experience of “being at functions where there is no space or time to have productive dialogue amongst other women of color because others dominate the allotted time and space.” She says that, regardless of even good intentions, women of color are often excluded. “Sometimes spaces or functions must be labeled as intended for people of certain genders, races, classes or sexual orientations in order to be inclusive of these communities.”
It can seem counterintuitive to address issues of marginalization by devising separate venues and forums, but while Women & Creativity will mainly feature the work of women, it invites everyone to participate. What’s presented isn’t women’s art, it’s art by women, and that’s an important distinction.
The dozens of events include a reading by poet Valerie Martínez, a production of Real Women Have Curves, and an event honoring the grande dame of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem. If you’re still in doubt as to whether Women’s History Month is necessary, ask someone after 1989 if they’ve ever heard of Steinem, a woman who helped birth a movement that seeks to free both sexes from the rigid limitations of gender roles and sexism. Until the response is more “yes” than “no,” it looks like we still need a month to remind us.