Women’s History Month: A Cause for Celebration, A Cause for Concern

During Women’s History Month, we often reflect on and celebrate the achievements of women around the world, particularly in the face of unimaginable obstacles. While we’ve come a very long way, and every generation further cements the power and influence women can wield, there are still difficulties and expectations tied to gender and/or racial stereotypes women contend with—seemingly from birth. Even before I made my appearance into the world, it (and my parents) had already decided my purpose as a girl: I would (hopefully) be a God-fearing, smart, pretty, dutiful, selfless, obedient, goal-oriented, accommodating, supportive, independent, reliable, and accomplished daughter, sibling, career woman, wife, and mother and be of service to others. I would inhabit all these qualities and identities interchangeably and seamlessly, and essentially be everything, everywhere, all at once.

As I grew older, expectations and stereotypes followed me well into adulthood, influencing how I navigate my relationships, career, and my sense of self, and certainly how I am perceived—from the boardroom to the hospital room and every kind of room in between. The pressure to meet these expectations, or combat them, can be suffocating, since, as women, we are not only expected to balance multiple roles and excel in all of them effortlessly, but to do so perfectly without offense, complaint, and frankly, help.

In our work at Children’s HealthWatch, we see and hear this play out in the lives of the women we interview in emergency rooms and clinics across the country, the majority of whom are BIPOC, immigrant, low-income caretakers of their young children and families. Like millions of women, they struggle with balancing expectations and navigating challenges around family, relationships, work, and health, with the added complications of sexism, racism, xenophobia, nativism, and anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric. So, it’s no wonder why we advocate for equitable policies and programs that acknowledge these realities and help alleviate associated burdens–—backed by credible research and data.

For example, as we deal with inflation and a tightening job market, which tend to affect women more, as well as the biases and misogyny that can take a toll on women’s career advancement and undermine their abilities, potential, and pay, two of the largest federal safety net programs– Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and unemployment insurance (UI)—can aid families by supplementing low or fluctuating incomes, or by offering temporary support during periods of unemployment.” Additionally, our research shows expansions to tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC)  have historically had a larger net positive impact for people of color – particularly Black and Latinx families – who are overrepresented among workers with low incomes and disproportionately experience higher rates of poverty and poor health compared to white families.

In medical, political, religious, and educational domains, our physical, mental, emotional, sexual, and spiritual well-being, needs, and concerns are often not taken seriously, undermined, or set aside. We are thought of as ‘hysterical’ or ‘strident’ or ‘overreacting’ when we attempt to advocate for ourselves and others. Imagine a world where that wasn’t the case and if the structural inequities that drive, for example, racial/ethnic disparities in education attainment in the United States were eliminated – especially for women of color? What if the economy actually worked for women and considered their unique obstacles in a genuine, meaningful way? What if our pain was addressed rather than dismissed by professionals sworn to, “First, do no harm”? What if we made quality, affordable childcare widely available? We at Children’s HealthWatch know that when policies do not address harms or do so inconsistently by first applying solutions and then reducing or eliminating them altogether, it stymies equity, growth, healthy development, stability, and prosperity. And when policies do address them, we all benefit. 

Despite the obstacles we face, there is a quiet resilience that defines our experiences as women. It is a daunting journey fraught with anxiety and stumbling blocks and requires courage, strength, and a willingness to challenge the status quo. We learn to adapt, push back against the constraints imposed upon us, redefine and reclaim our own narratives, and demand all that we are owed: and that is more than one month to truly and genuinely care about our well-being and accomplishments in all aspects of our lives.

We are owed the utmost respect, consideration, protection, support, and recognition of our inherent and unquestionable fullness of humanity–and the space and unfettered opportunity to embrace and honor our true selves. I look forward to when society as a whole reflects that reality in every way, every single day. May it be soon.