Here we go again — Women’s History Month. Like other “months” devoted to personal identity, I feel deeply conflicted about whether to enjoy the celebration or rage against the injustice. Are we really supposed to be satisfied that we get one month out of twelve? Why do we need any special months? Oh, right, because if we don’t at least leverage this small opportunity for notice and advocacy, we might fall even further into the silence of women’s anonymous role in so much of history.
I’m thinking these somewhat curmudgeonly thoughts this week as the global spotlight is focused brightly on that most distinctively male ritual, the Papal Conclave. God be with our brother cardinals who have to make such a momentous decision for the Catholic Church in this time of churn and concern. I fully accept the cultural nature of our faith’s all-male rituals and traditions, and yet, at some level, I can also sense the deep sentiment — is it hurt or bewilderment or anger? — that so many devoted Catholic women feel by the plain fact of women’s complete absence from this historical moment in Church history. Far from being disloyal by expressing concern about standing outside the doors, many Catholic women feel a strong desire to be in the conversation precisely because of their loyalty to the faith, and their long years of doing the hard work of real ministry “on the ground” in parishes and schools, hospitals and families.
What will history record about women’s role and influence on the momentous selection of a new pope in 2013?
Closer to home, in the secular realm, we also can behold the thoroughly despicable game of sequestration and the relative dearth of women’s voices in the political cacophony. The men who control the game went golfing and vacationing while playing cynical games with the livelihoods, services and safety of millions of American. Sequester and budget cutbacks threaten to harm women, children and the elderly most acutely in the reduction in federal social services and impact on education. Congressional women today staged a Twitter Town Hall to #standupforwomen but that seemed like a cry in the dark when we consider the very high stakes games the men who hold all the power right now are playing.
What will history say about women’s leadership in resolving the budget crisis and ending sequestration?
It’s hard to write women into history when women are kept on the margins. The same can be said for Black History, Hispanic History and all of the other lovely months that are no substitute for real power and influence. Just last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments on whether the Voting Rights Act might be unconstitutional. Some members of the Supreme Court indicated that they think that this nation no longer needs voting rights protections, that perhaps the law has been wrong all along. You see, this is what happens to history when the only voices we hear are those of a power elite, when the voices of people affected by the decisions of that elite are silenced. No one who knows the real story of the history and still-ugly reality of race discrimination in this nation could possibly say that voting rights are secure.
Yes, there is a great deal of social and political change afoot in this nation and around the world, and we do see signs of progress on many fronts — three women sit on the Supreme Court, an African American man is president, and the conversation is quite serious about the possibility of a non-European pope. In daily life, people of many different characteristics and dispositions do have many more opportunities than ever before.
And yet, and yet… whole swatches of the world’s population still have no voice in writing their own history. The women’s rights, civil rights, human rights revolutions are far from complete.
So even as we observe this month and all of the other identity months and celebrate the progress that we have made, let’s remember that our real goal must be to write bold new chapters in human history.
See my blog “Conclave Considerations” on the Huffington Post
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