By: Trinity Schabel
Do you remember your great-grandmother’s name?
Mine is named Jean, but we call her Gram. She’s 104 years old, blind as a bat and sharp as a nail. She has a taxidermied cat that sleeps on her couch, a secret staircase in her house she doesn’t know I know about, and tied my grandpa to a tree when he was young to keep him from running off. At her 100th birthday party, her half-brother showed up – this was the first moment she informed us of his existence. She also has a taste for lobster bisque.
I could go on about how at age 97 she broke her hip and army-crawled to the nearest phone, or how she stores Chips Ahoy in the microwave. But I think you’re getting the picture of who my grandma is. And how she, at least to me, will be remembered.
Now it is women’s history month. And in the words of Gram, “I’ve got a bone to pick” with it: the month doesn’t actually remember women at all. Let me explain.
All we seem to do this month is remember women’s names and accomplishments, but that’s not real remembrance. It’s simply taking in information. And the only reason we care about the information is because we benefit from it.
Further, what may have begun as a lovely period of remembrance when it was established by Jimmy Carter has now turned into a market. People consume content on social media, go to campaigns and wear pins about the month, but this only thickens the wallets of the media and gives people a false sense of self-betterment. It’s less about the women and more about enacting our societal, consumeristic rituals of how to be good people, and those who do not participate are written off as immoral people.
I fear women’s history month is not about actual historical women; it’s a melting pot of rituals that give the illusion of remembrance, charged with tensions of politics, profit and morality. And remembering women for their political achievements is one very thin slice of the pie in all there is to contemplate about the women who formed us.
Humans aren’t just political, economical, and material creatures. We love, we sing and we create. In the words of Robert Farrar Capon, “the human being is the only creature in the world who knows a good pickling rock when he sees one.” When we think of women’s history month through a political lens alone, the great irony is that in trying to remember these women, we forget them.
We remember their actions that benefit us, but not their favorite soup. We remember their names, but not the lullaby they sang to their babies at night. We remember one dramatic, political event, but not their greatest questions about the universe. When we reduce women simply to how they served us, their lives become a means to our own ends of self-satisfaction. So, how do we actually remember women?
I have two suggestions: The first is time. Visit grandma, and ask her to teach you the recipe for the Hamburg soup she made you growing up. Sit with your sister and make friendship bracelets like you used to. Hug mom, and be comforted by the extra padding around the middle she took on to have you. Touch her pink hands, worn from years of drying dishes and tears. Admire the twinkles of gray in her hair and smile at her eyes, which, for better or for worse, have always communicated more than her words. Go to the cemetery, and touch the graves of women who have formed your community. Get to know the women who have formed you directly, and pass your love for them on to your own children.
The second is festivity. What is the common denominator between Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthdays, weddings, Sundays, and the fourth of July? We feast. We remember the “feast day” of saints. And who knows, maybe Jesus knew what he was doing when he broke the bread….
Prepare and eat food with your great aunt, friend, sister, mom and stepmother. Commune with one another, be filled and participate in the ongoing nourishment you received since the umbilical cord to the tomato sandwiches only mom could make right. Put down the phone, and nourish your body, your relationships and your soul.
Time and festivity aren’t as glamorous as the siren songs of social media. And frankly, interacting with people directly is a lot harder than getting likes online. It is easier to celebrate women you’ve never met than real people who do really annoying things, like our grandmas and aunts and sisters and moms. But that is precisely why we need to sit down at the table with them. It’s not easy, but it lasts a whole lot longer than the time it takes to like an Instagram post. And I promise, on my great grandma Jean’s taxidermied cat, the stories you create with the women around you, the bonds you form, the love you grow, is something you will never forget.