Every March, Mason works hard to showcase Women’s History Month. Displays and information highlight issues in honor of the ongoing humanitarian conflicts of womanhood, and guest lecturers and special events come to campus to share the wealth of their experiences.
At times past, the focus and urgency of women’s history in a year could be narrow in some ways; empowering for some, but leaving invisibility and isolation for others. The intent in this has never been malicious, but in the great sweep of voices that rose up as women’s rights advanced, some stories were heard more loudly than others.
Mason’s month of remembrance and attention no longer misses those whose voices are spoken over so often. This year, and every year, Women’s History Month embraces all women.
At Mason, the month is home to many events that honor the spirit of the topic, but it goes beyond posters and stray did-you-knows across campus. Here, the action is up-front, close, and personal, and its focus is intersectionality. For anyone to whom the term is new, this is the way in which complex issues are not distilled to a single active element—each sphere of experience is viewed as entangled in another, to study the ramifications of this point of contact. To acknowledge intersectionality during Women’s History Month is to dispel the phantoms of the old idea that a women’s issue concerns woman-ness alone; it must be made clear that injustices do not sit in a vacuum. They are deeply entangled in the other aspects of living in which inequity and oppression exist.
This is reflected in the events that have been held this year—too many to list here, and all brilliant. Exemplary works include our earliest events, in which we welcomed guest speakers Crystal Leigh Endsley, PhD., and Laverne Cox. Dr. Endsley, Assistant Professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, spoke about the activism inherent to performance art. Herself a spoken word artist, her lecture offered insight into music and pop culture as vehicles of social change. Laverne Cox, acclaimed transgender activist and star of the show Orange is the New Black, gave us the honor of her presence and her words, speaking about the complex web of circumstances in living as a transgender woman of color. This series of intersections has deeply impacted many lives, yet is dangerously overlooked in conventional activism. Cox’s work focuses on uplifting the rights and the needs of the many women like her.
And neither woman is alone in her representation of the multiplicities of her life. The pressures of class, race, gender identity, disability, citizenship, and countless other spheres of experience are in constant relationships with one another, defining and compounding the lives of human beings with a myriad of effects. The result is a struggle two- or threefold; for others, it is total invisibility, and for others still, it is a toxic mix of both.
Our societal responses to the inequities present in our world should acknowledge and explore what happens when many kinds of social injustice meet. So much more progress is forthcoming. For example, the voices of disabled girls and women must also be heard when we say we speak for all women, those who live in the collision between womanhood and disability in a society that disadvantages both, and where the two experiences together create a category of invisible people. We would do well to keep this in mind as April approaches, when autism spectrum disabilities will be widely attended to.
For now, interested minds should look toward Mason’s next intersectional presentation, bridging March into April with the airing of Somewhere Between, a film that opens doors into the coming-of-age of girls of Asian-Pacific heritage. The event is April 1st in Research 1, room 163. Thus do women’s month, Asian-Pacific American heritage month, and the university’s International Week converge.
With all we are already doing, I have faith that the minds at GMU are ready, willing, and well able to further these kinds of outreach.