Somehow the National Women’s History Museum got ahold of my mailing address. I’ve recently been involved with preservation organizations and have given money to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, so I have a feeling they found me through one of those veins.
At first I was unsure how I felt about such a museum. When I wrote my undergrad thesis I was annoyed that books on women’s history were labeled with pinky-purple stickers marking them as “gender” history books. They were sequestered on a floor away from the history books and in their own nook next to all the different “studies” books (African-American, Chicano, etc.). While I think there is nothing more awesome than acknowledgment of women’s achievements throughout the past (or the achievements of any other understudied, marginalized groups), I don’t see why these books can’t rub shoulders with the “non-gendered” history books. So in this way, my first reaction was to feel that women don’t need an entire museum – they just need greater recognition in the Smithsonian American History Museum.
Yet the more I started thinking about the divergent ways in which women experience and engage with history, the more I started to feel that maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. While there is something of a collective American experience that affects all residents of the country, there are different expectations for how to fulfill what it means to be an American man or woman.
Senators Jim DeMint from South Carolina and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma essentially crushed the bill put forth to the Senate that would allow federal land near the National Mall to be sold (at fair market value) to the National Women’s History Museum for a museum site. DeMint and Coburn placed a hold on the bill that stalled its progress until last year’s Congress closed, forcing the supporters of the bill (Senator Carolyn Maloney from New York and Susan Collins from Maine) to reintroduce it again this year. The objectors’ protests centered around allegations that the museum was a politically driven organization desiring to put up only pro-abortion messages, despite the lack of evidence to prove that this was the case. The museum will not be receiving taxpayer support, it is a private non-profit, and all it wants to do is purchase land to build a museum.
All this says to me that there is a great need at present for more dialogue on women’s role in history. When all that can be said about women’s history is abortionabortionabortion there is clearly a need for greater education. A Women’s History Museum should not just be about birth control and feminism (though these two are important components of a larger story), but should tell all facets of the female experience. The Museum is currently running (and expanding) an online exhibit about motherhood, which I have a feeling is intended to soothe the naysayers’ worries that the Museum will only celebrate rebellion or stories that might be perceived as “non-traditional” to the more conservative sector. I applaud the efforts of the exhibit and really hope that it shows how we arrived at our present attitudes and how complicated the choice to be a mother is at present! Having it “all” seems like a heck of a lot of work and I applaud those who choose motherhood, those who choose careers, and those who tackle them both.
So even though I want to buy an HD TV, I just shelled out a couple hundred for thesis binding/copying/graduation fees, my car needs new break pads, and I just had my giant car insurance bill arrive in the mail, I’m going to get out my checkbook and send in some monetary support. And if someone were to send me a call for support for a National Men’s History Museum, I’d jump on board there too. I think what it means to be a “woman” or a “man” in any given time period is very important in discerning how we choose to act and shape ourselves. I don’t think women should be privileged over men by any means (or vice versa), we just need to reach a greater level of understanding and respect for all conditions of life. I think that the National Women’s History Museum is a good way to do just that.
More info on the museum at their website.