Wear The Shirt And Make Women’s History

“Well behaved women rarely make history” ~ Laurel Thatcher UlrichWear the Shirt and Make Women's History Photo, Gloria in TShirt

I often wear a t-shirt bearing historian Ulrich’s advice because people react with a chuckle and it starts conversations. Conversations we need because women’s history is rarely given its due.

March is Women’s History Month, so designated because history has largely been framed through the male lens, recorded by male pens, and thus not surprisingly showcases men as the protagonists and the leaders; women, if noticed at all, play supporting roles (unless of course they take “male” personas, such as generals).

Yet women were everywhere, giving birth to everyone, among many other accomplishments. I’ve often wondered whether, if women had been documenting history for the last millennium, keeping peace and making things rather than making war and destroying things would be the central organizing narrative.

Then, once history is made, it seems so normal that it can easily be taken for granted. When I asked my grandson if he would vote for a woman for president, he responded “Yeaaah” in that drawn out way that made it sound as though I had three heads to ask such a dumb question.

And Sunday’s New York Times front page boasted a photo of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde—with little comment about what a power shift those two symbolize. Yet, as Lagarde said at the recent Women in the World conference, the global financial meltdown might not have occurred if Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters—or at least Lehman Brothers and Sisters. History has consequences for the future.

Women’s History: A Revolutionary Shift

Until the 1970’s, the topic of women’s history was virtually nonexistent in public consciousness. It wasn’t until 1978 that the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County (California) Commission on the Status of Women first initiated a “Women’s History Week”. They chose the week of March 8 to make International Women’s Day—established in 1909 to highlight the need for a strong working women’s agenda—part of it.

The response was so overwhelming that by 1987, the entire month of March was designated as Women’s History Month by a bi-partisan Congressional resolution.

The inception of Women’s History Month marked a revolutionary shift in thinking about whose actions are worth recording. Yet most history curricula still under-report women’s history and history made by women.

When I show students in my Women, Power, and Leadership class, most of whom are Women and Gender Studies majors or minors, photos of two dozen of the most influential women in American history, few recognize anyone other than perhaps Gloria Steinem in her aviator glasses. They all recognize pop culture icons such as race car driver Danica Patrick. But few if any know about Ada Lovelace who created the underlying concepts that enabled Steve Jobs to envision Apple. She’s been called the first computer programmer.

Ever hear of her? Not likely.

History Sheds Light On Today’s Struggles

That’s why during our annual attention to Women’s History Month it’s as important to learn and to teach history as to celebrate it.

With recent legislation on the state and federal levels seeking to force women to endure jamming unnecessary ultrasound probes into their vaginas, allow employers to deny women health services, while the Paycheck Fairness Act languishes without a hearing in Congress and the motherhood penalty for female employees remains rampant, it’s urgent that women’s historic and contemporary struggles for our most fundamental rights are studied and understood.

By “wearing the shirt” (No Excuses Power Tool #6), we begin to appreciate our own history. And when we know our history (No Excuses Power Tool #1), we can create the future of our choice.

Eleanor Roosevelt realized this and that’s why she became more or less the first blogger. She wrote “My Day”, a 500-word syndicated newspaper column six days a week from 1935 until her death in 1962 in order to influence policy through a medium accessible to a woman. “Without equality,” she said, “there can be no democracy.” She was more noted for her work to advance racial equality, but she clearly included women in that declaration: “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”

The gravel-voiced former congresswoman, Bella Abzug, once said, “Our struggle today is not to have a female Einstein get appointed as an assistant professor. It is for a woman schlemiel to get as quickly promoted as a male schlemiel.”

We’ll know we have social and political gender parity when women’s visibility in the making of history, and in the telling of it, will be, well, just normal.

This article originally ran in a blog post for FORBESWOMAN. Check it out here.

Wear the Shirt Contest Winner!

Shannon Drury of The Radical Housewife is the lucky winner of my Wear the Shirt contest. Thanks to my stellar team of interns, Gabrielle Korn and Dior Vargas for making the selection, because I love all of the photos. But I guess the rule that one should never try to compete against a small child still holds, and Shannon’s exuberant daughter Miriam in her shirt proclaiming “Feminism runs in our family” won the day.

Shannon is a writer, an at-home parent, and a community activist who has been blogging about parenthood and politics since 2006. She is a prime example of Power Tool #8: Employ Every Medium. The accessibility of blogging and social media has truly changed the political landscape by making it possible for everyone to speak at the same decibel level. Shannon writes about gender, politics, and parenting, among other topics. I’ll be sending a set of my four signed books to Shannon, and maybe Miriam will read them, too, in a few years.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the contest. You can view the complete slide show of all the entries here.

And by the way, though this contest is over, don’t hesitate to send me more photos of you in shirts that proclaim your convictions. I’ll keep posting them and I am sure readers of this blog will keep enjoying them. Most important, keep wearing them!

Wear the Shirt is just one example of Power Tool #8 – we promoted the campaign on Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, She Writes, and even on Second Life.

How do you consume media? How can you use media to spread your message?

Wear the Shirt: Win Fabulous Prizes!

Want to see who’s wearing the shirt? Click to open this post and watch the slide show! (You could be in it.)

Feministing.com executive director Samhita Mukhopadhyay cuts straight to the point.

My fabulous intern Dior Vargas, sporting her copy of No Excuses and a shirt that aptly sums up her position on Proposition 8.

Three of the Feminists for Choice writers at Seneca Falls, birthplace of the women’s movement.  They’re embracing Power Tool #1, know your history.  Serena Freewomyn’s shirt (center) quotes Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”

Margaret Sanger had so many things to teach us about leadership, so I love this shirt. And of course, I had to do one wearing the “Well behaved women” quote. Thanks to the Women’s Campaign Forum for my purple “She Should Run” shirt.

Shannon Drury‘s daughter is proud to shout that “feminism runs in my family!”

Blogger Jessica Haney’s shirt is a product of her advising the Gay Straight Alliance at her school.

Jamia Wilson’s shirt says “The Personal is Political.”  It’s from AuH20’s eco-feminist fashion show.

Patti Chang and her 6 year old daughter Kiana sport those great green shirts that say “Feed the Hungry.”

Sabrina Worsham is a pro-choice advocate from Illinois. She and her dog Xena aren’t big fans of homophobia.

Stand up comic Reyna Velarde puts out a word for women’s health.

Amanda Lee Keammerer-Aderibigbe shows her Democratic spirit with her “Barack is my Homeboy” T-shirt.

Gabrielle Korn’s shirt says “Believe It,” because she believes in the power of women to do anything they set their minds to.

Ben Atherton-Zeman: Feminist, actor, and husband is resenting a one-man anti-violence play “Voices of Men.” Clips available at http://www.voicesofmen.org. His shirt gets right to the point.

Filmmaker Donna Deitch’s shirt says, “Maybe surfs down but I’m still up.”

Community organizer Katelyn McDonald opposes the objectification of women’s bodies.

Blogger Transgrad‘s shirt is an oldie, but goodie.

Activist Shelby Knox is very clear about how she makes her electoral decisions.

Connie Watz and Dennis Poplin want to Save Roe. Connie was 8 months pregnant when she wore this shirt.

Megan Milanese of Feminists to the Rescue is another Planned Parenthood supporter. Message shirts, in Megan’s opinion, are an important part of social justice work. She has a collection of Planned Parenthood shirts that she’s gathered over the years. This one is her favorite.

Sammie Moshenberg’s grandson Camilo Sandoval-Moshenberg in a Yale Journal of Law and Feminism shirt. Isn’t he adorable!

Nancy Goldstein says Oy vey!

Morgane Veronique Richardson says, “we can do this!”

Heidi Stine really took this challenge to heart. Look at all her awesome pins!

Jill Miller Zimon’s shirt is from the White House Project, which encourages women to run for office.

Finally, I even wore the shirt in Second Life – that’s how much fun I have been having with this contest.

Where’s your shirt? What does it say? Wear the shirt of your convictions right here! That’s power tool #6 of the 9 Ways.

  • Thanks to all who’ve already posted photos of yourselves wearing your shirt. If you haven’t already share your shirt, please post a link to your photo right on on the 9 Ways Blog or send it to me an email to join the show. We’ll keep adding to it indefinitely. Tell me why your shirt is significant to you.

  • And remember, one lucky shirt-wearer who posts by end of day December 4 will win a set of my four books, autographed as you wish.

Enter the Wear the Shirt Photo Contest

No Excuses Power Tool #6 is “Wear the Shirt.” It’s a metaphor for sharing your convictions with others. Whether it’s a slogan, a DIY ensemble, or your Feminist Majority “this is what a feminist looks like” shirt, it’s important that we wear our shirts proudly. That’s why I’m hosting a Wear the Shirt photo contest.

Send me a photo of you in your favorite message shirt, and I’ll include you in the slide show on my homepage. One lucky winner will receive an autographed set of my four books, including No Excuses.

I would love for you to participate in this opportunity to socialize and share your favorite shirts! There are three ways to participate:

1. Take a picture of yourself in your favorite shirt and send it to me in an email.
2. Post the picture on your blog and let your readers know about this contest! E-mail me and I’ll link to the post and also put it on my Twitter and Facebook page.
3. Tweet your shirt and about the wear the shirt campaign, linking to @GloriaFeldt.

Wear the Shirt Can Spur a Movement

Last Monday night, thanks to my great friend Dede Bartlett’s orchestration, I had the pleasure of speaking about No Excuses at the New Canaan (CT) Public Library. What made the event really special was that two of the women I interviewed for the book were present.

So I invited Sophfronia Scott, writer and founder of Done for You (a service that helps authors write and package their books) and executive coach Bonnie Marcus, who also hosts the “Head Over Heels” radio show, to share their stories with the audience.

Both demonstrated power tool #6: wear the shirt, by revealing their authentic selves, their passions, their aspirations.

Marcus described how she went to a job interview at a cardiac center with no management experience– in fact, no business experience whatsoever, and yet by showing her passion she got the job. “I talked about my passion for cardiac fitness,” she said. “I had been teaching aerobics. I talked about how the mission of their company resonated with me because my dad had a heart attack at fifty-seven and my family completely changed our lifestyle at home, becoming more active and eating heart-healthy foods. I showed the cardiac center how their mission and message was my way of life. They hired me! Certainly not because of anything but my passion and energy for the company and their mission.”

Scott told us how she decided to tell the world (via a powerful blog post January 1) that 2010 would be her year of living fearlessly. “Once I declared my fears, and how tired I was of letting them stop me, I was able to pledge: ‘I’m stepping out onto the high wire. There may be a net down there or there may not be. I don’t know, I’m too high up to see…A lot of this, I know, will challenge me on what I really want to write, how I want to be with my family, how I want my business to be run.'”

Both of these women had the courage to “wear the shirt” of their convictions in their personal and work lives. When have you done that? Or wished that you had?

You can also wear the shirt for a cause or issue you support. Was there a time when you did that? What was the result? How did you feel when you shared your authentic convictions with others?

Power Tool #6: Wear the Shirt

“I love your T-shirt,” chuckled Jenny, my twenty-something personal trainer, as she stretched my aching legs. “I never saw that before.”

I hadn’t noticed which of my many message T-shirts I had thrown on when I rolled out of bed before sunrise. Most of the folks who populate New York’s Columbus Circle Equinox gym sport workout clothes that bear designer labels, but seldom do I see any that pack a message punch. I figure my chest is valuable real estate—why not use it to communicate my convictions?

I looked down and saw that I’d grabbed one of my favorites: Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History. Historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s wry observation became one of the guiding principles of the women’s movement during the 1970s, and living it seems as natural to me now as balance ball crunches do to my lithe trainer.

Perhaps because of their delicious candor laced with felicity of expression, these words have become a slogan for boundary-breaking women everywhere. But just because it’s proudly emblazoned on mugs and bumper stickers and, yes, T-shirts, doesn’t mean we should let the message be reduced to merely a personal assertion of gutsiness. The context of Ulrich’s observation, the thing that actually makes it true, is both personal and political. Although history is often taught in schoolbooks as a sequence of significant acts by Important Men (and the occasional important woman), what Ulrich recognized is that making history is a communal act, requiring us to break the boundaries of what is considered proper behavior.

“Wear the Shirt” becomes a metaphor, then, for taking a bold stance about your convictions, and not hiding your light under the bushel basket. When you wear the shirt to the grocery store, the gym, or to pick up the mail, you are inviting people to have a conversation with you.

What shirt expresses you? If you’ve got a photo, or can take one, of yourself in a sassy shirt, I’d love for you to share it here. We’ll start a photo gallery next week, so send me an e-mail with your photo if you’d like to be included.