March 8, 2023

A Women’s History Month Conversation with Professor Michelle Berry

Category: D&I Series

Author: Michael Gutgsell, Financial Coordinatior

As part of Arrow’s Diversity and Inclusion Speaker Series, Arrow resident Ellen Pierce sat down with Michelle Berry, assistant professor at the University of Arizona to discuss the importance of Women’s History Month.

Berry begins by pointing out issues of visibility. To this day, women don’t often appear in the history we learn about in school or see reflected in television. In 2017, authors with the virtual National Women’s History Museum analyzed the state education standards and found that for approximately every three men one woman was required teaching. 

It wasn’t until 2020 that any statues of women were put up in Central Park. Seeing women who have succeeded is a way to empower young women, and that’s why it’s important to see examples of women in positions of authority both contemporary and from the past. 

While so much of society (with specific examples of farming and science discussed) has been male-dominated, women have been in positions of unrecognized power in all of those spaces. Studying those women and understanding the essence of that power is what is important about women’s history. 

Berry’s been asked: If women aren’t different from men, then why does it make a difference if they are represented or not? Berry paraphrases Jane Addams, the second woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize, to answer: Women have unique life experiences that forms a perspective that should be represented everywhere: In court, in business, in education. 

We have a tendency to celebrate very well-known people during Women’s History Month, but the contributions of everyday women are a vital area of focus, and one which Berry is passionate about researching. Berry and Pierce both expressed admiration of Sharlot Hall (1870-1943), an Arizona rancher and community leader who collected the stories of ordinary women and recorded the support they provided to their economy and homes. 

Women in rural areas had extensive responsibilities. Take for example Pierce’s own experience living on a dairy farm: You step up and take care of whatever is necessary in the moment. Sometimes this meant cooking a mean biscuit, other times it meant working with the threshing crew. Rarely were men on farms expected to cook meals for thirty people, but women were expected to cook, clean, and work the farm. They were extra-capable. 

These abilities have historically come to light during periods of war, which are watershed moments in women’s history, particularly World War II, which brought women out of domestic roles and into places of industry, politics, and combat. After this experience, many women weren’t satisfied with the cookie cutter domesticity of the fifties, which in part led to the Women’s Liberation Movement of the sixties. 

Pierce and Berry connected over their shared experience in political activism. “Don’t give up the fight, women,” Pierce says, “You don’t have to take a back seat to nobody!” When asked how organizing was back before the internet, Pierce said: “I would give my eye teeth for a cellphone fifty years ago.”

It’s difficult to talk about Women’s History Month without discussing politics. “So much of our access to the world has come through hard political organizing. If we want to have a presence outside of our homes and our families, we have to fight,” said Berry.

As an example, Pierce’s daughter was told that women don’t have the necessary qualities needed to be a good doctor. Pierce saw those as fighting words. “Don’t say a woman can’t do anything; get out of the way and move over because she’s coming.” 

Pierce’s daughter is a doctor now. 

Women are legally equal now, but the next step Berry sees needed is to educate and disable cultural assumptions about who women are. “Gender reveal” parties held for unborn babies are an example of how we still expect people to fit into boxes determined by their sex.  

Berry encourages everyone to educate themselves on Women’s History. It’s so easy to access now, and for a place to start Berry recommends the Smithsonian Institute and the National Women’s History Alliance

Perhaps most importantly: Keep supporting, loving, and encouraging young women. As Pierce says, “Women have to be team players.” Empowered women empower women. 

For the full conversation, click here

Saint Charles, Missouri-based Arrow Senior Living manages a portfolio of communities that offer varying levels of care, including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Each and every senior living community supports residents by focusing on dignity, respect, and quality of life. The programs and amenities offered are selected to provide only the highest standard of quality and comfort.

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