Women's History Month and Beyond
March is national Women's History Month. But what should this mean to Americans? We could focus on celebrating women's past contributions. Or, as Dr. Millicent Thomas believes, we could also acknowledge the challenges women currently face and concretely encourage them to transform any negative situation.
Dr. Millicent Thomas, a trained sociologist and University of Phoenix faculty member, has definite ideas about how Americans might celebrate Women's History Month. To begin with, we need to fully recognize that all women are not alike. "All women do not have a common challenge. Age, socioeconomic status, race (including skin color, hair texture and facial features) make a difference." She goes on to suggest that "one cannot look at the challenges that face women without looking at social economics. The source of social economics is, for most, employment access and workplace dynamics."
On the topic of employment access, Thomas talks of the shift from societal emphasis on affirmative action in the 60's and 70's to diversity by the mid-80's. She recalls an episode on employment access that aired on "60 Minutes" around 1990: "The episode had two African Americans (male and female) and two Euro-Americans (male and female). They were attired exactly the same; exactly the same education and employment history. Needless to say, the persons of color were not hired. We moved from affirmative action to diversity." But does this mean equal employment opportunity has changed? Thomas argues, "No, it has not."
In her book, Move Mountain: The Lived Experiences of African American, Middle Class, Female, Single Parents, Dr. Thomas explores issues like these in detail. She looks at the decision makers in various institutions and businesses. "In most cases, they are not African-American women. Yes, African-American women are hired in greater numbers than in the past, but (in many companies) not as decision makers. And, when they are, the physical dynamics becomes an interesting element; I look at the fairness of skin color, long hair with physical features that reflect Euro-American women. Those in decision-making positions are older women, larger in physical stature, with non-Euro-American facial features and in many cases, have been in such positions for long periods of time."
The other source of social economics is workplace dynamics. "The US Constitution guarantees rights for all people. I am far more concerned about how people of all ages, races, classes, and genders are treated in the workplace." In addition, she encourages women to be aware, "Look at your surroundings. Are people acknowledged, respectful and friendly? Or, are they invisible? When companies speak loud and proud about diversity; at what level can it be observed?"
Celebrate All Women!
Sharing her final thoughts on Women's History Month, Dr. Thomas says, "Celebrate all women! Women of every age, race, class and socioeconomic group have contributed to America. Please do not neglect to include Native American women! Tell women that the cement floor and the glass ceiling may be real phenomena; however, many women are able to transform their circumstances to make these phenomena work for them. Women in the lower socioeconomic strata need to know that they are skilled individuals as well as contributors to the American mainstream. They have survivor skills that they teach to their children. Many are natural organizers, great cooks (if not chefs), creators, critical thinkers and expert problem solvers." These are important things for all Americans to think about, all year long.