How to Make History Herstory

Here’s the thing about history: those with more power generally get to write it.

But that’s a changeable paradigm if we think of history as a dynamic, unfolding reality rather than a static past. Not only is history subject to interpretation; history is made by intentionally

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shaping the future. What each of us does today creates the history for tomorrow.

Or Herstory. Her Story.

I had the best time this week interviewing two women who are making and shaping history—one by telling stories with her films and one by philanthropy and social action. Our topic for Take The Lead’s monthly Virtual Happy Hour was “Women Making History Today.”

Too often, women have been written out of history. Sometimes they’re simply ignored, regarded as not sufficiently important to be recorded. Other times, women’s accomplishments have been stolen, credit taken by male colleagues, husbands, superiors.

March is Women’s History Month. Think about why for a moment. 

Is there a Men’s History Month?

Well, no, and why should there be? The lens through which history has been traditionally seen, interpreted, and recorded is male.

That’s exactly why Tool #1 of my 9 Leadership Power Tools is “Know your history and you can create the future of your choice.” We need to learn about it, teach about it, and set the record straight where need be. At least, fill in the blank spaces where women were there but not seen or heard.

The New York Times launched “Remarkable Women,” an obituary project that aims to rewrite women back into the history through obituaries that should have been written and printed in the paper at the time.  Their impetus:  realizing that only one in five of their subjects over the last two years were women—and they’ve been writing obituaries since 1851.  Left out were towering figures from Ida B. Wells, whose unflinching bravery chronicling lynchings across the South is seen as the birth of what we now celebrate as investigative journalism; the woman who oversaw the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Emily Warren Roebling; Charlotte Bronte; Bollywood’s own Marilyn Monroe, Madhubala; poet Qui Jin; photographer Diane Arbus, and so many more.

I keep a running list of women whose work has been credited to others. A few examples:

Mileva Einstein reportedly was the brains behind Albert Einstein’s brains and contributed without recognition to his work.

Without Ada Lovelace’s work on algorithms that created the first computer program, Steve Jobs could never have invented the iPhone. Her colleague Charles Babbage took credit for her work.

And 16-year old Sybil Ludington rode farther and mustered more troops to fight the British at the same time as Paul Revere, but have you ever heard of her? Only people who live in the small upstate New York town named for her generally know about her.

That’s why I wanted shift the perspective and look forward instead of backward. To talk about how you can make history now and make darn sure the world knows it.

Unquestionably women are making history big time right now. Think #metoo and Time’s Up. That’s top of mind obvious. But women are also making history in media, in science, in tech, and in business.

When we’re in the middle of it, we forget that in every step we take in our own lives we are contributing to that larger, richer narrative about women and our achievements, and by extension, the stories told in the future about what happened today.

We—YOU–have that powerTo make history.

I talked about this topic with film writer, director, and activist, Rachel Feldman and Ms. Foundation president and CEO Teresa Younger who are changing the narrative as they do vital work.

Rachel is the former chair of the Women’s Steering Committee of the Director’s Guild of America. She’s a “go-to” source regarding gender inclusion in the film industry.

She’s in the process of developing the first biopic of Lilly Ledbetter, the retired tire company worker whose courageous fight to gain equal pay inspired President Obama’s first piece of legislation – The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.

She’s also, I’m proud to say, part of Take The Lead’s 50 Women Can Change the World in Media & Entertainment’s cohort.

Under Teresa’s leadership, the 44-year-old Ms. Foundation launched #MyFeminismIs, a multimedia campaign sparking a national conversation on the topic; funded a groundbreaking report on the sexual abuse of prisoners; joined leading women’s foundations at the White House to announce a $100 million funding commitment to create pathways to economic opportunity for low-income women and girls; and led a campaign to hold the NFL accountable for violence against women. But probably even more important than these nationally significant acts has been the Foundation’s persistent seeding of grassroots local organizations solving problems like keeping teen moms in school.

Ponder for a moment how profoundly future-shaping it has been for women to put a stake in the ground for the equal pay all people deserve. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that if women were paid equally with men, as much as 28 trillion dollars would be added to the global economy. This is a story that must be told both to set the history straight and to motivate us to create a fairer future.

After the Virtual Happy Hour, I dashed across town to catch a screening of a film about another woman who was fiercely determined to make history even with enormous odds stacked against her. “The Rape of Recy Taylor,” directed by Nancy Buirski, tells the story of a Black woman in a small segregated Southern town in 1944, during a time when such egregious acts were treated like rites of passage for white boys rather than the crimes they were and are. It’s an individual story and yet a story that chronicles the rise of women’s claim to bodily integrity and the Civil Rights movement.

Knowing your history is nothing less than a call to action. Every step you take, every move you make, as the song goes, is consequential.

Go make herstory. I know you can do it.

GLORIA FELDT is the New York Times bestselling author of several books including No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power, a sought-after speaker and frequent contributor to major news outlets, and the Co-Founder and President of Take The LeadPeople has called her “the voice of experience,” and among the many honors she has been given, Vanity Fair called her one of America’s “Top 200 Women Legends, Leaders, and Trailblazers,” and Glamour chose her as a “Woman of the Year.”

As co-founder and president of Take The Lead, a leading women’s leadership nonprofit, her mission is to achieve gender parity by 2025 through innovative training programs, workshops, a groundbreaking 50 Women Can Change The World immersive, online courses, a free weekly newsletter, and events including a monthly Virtual Happy Hour program and a Take The Lead Day symposium that reached over 400,000 women globally in 2017.

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