The calendar says it’s March — the month set aside to celebrate Women’s History Month, not just in the United States but in other countries as well. Our local prints are full of well-deserved tributes to women who have been groundbreakers, an inspiration to us all.
I felt the tug on March 8, International Women’s Day, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to mark the occasion as in years past. Taking time to celebrate International Women’s Day and History Month seems sadly out of place in March, 2022. Where ordinarily we might be admiring portraits of our plucky leaders and pictures of women who marched for equal rights, instead we are daily seeing heartbreaking scenes.
Mothers are shown in live pictures on our television screens fleeing with babies and toddlers. They’ve left behind husbands to protect their beloved homeland. Children bundled into jackets and scarves, scant protection against bitter cold, are trundling behind their mothers, lugging what few possessions they can carry. Elders swaddled in blankets are helped, some transported in wheelchairs.
We see scenes of devastation left when Russia’s invading forces rained bombs on a maternity and children’s hospital in Mariupol in Ukraine’s southeastern corner. A heavily pregnant woman is shown being wheeled away from the smoking debris where others died. Deaths and injuries mount — no one is sure how many. This direct strike, an unspeakably monstrous war crime, came despite Russians agreeing only the day before to a pause in hostilities to allow refugees to evacuate Mariupol and nearby towns and cities.
In less than two weeks, 2 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland. Millions more remain trapped in towns and cities under attack, huddled in underground bunkers without water and electricity. Hundreds have not survived. There are funerals and mass graves, and many are left unburied.
The people of Ukraine have been targeted by Vladimir Putin. The former KGB operative issues lies, accusing Ukraine of genocide, claiming he must act to demilitarize and “de-nazify” the country. The de-nazification claim is a twisted slander of a democratic nation led by a courageous Jewish president who lost relatives to Nazis during the Holocaust.
Such scenes of atrocities committed by the invading forces have made it impossible this year — at least for me — to observe Women’s History Month, not when embattled Ukrainian women have become part of a dismal future history, some paying with their lives.
Further, my dissonance over celebration led me to review the American penchant for designating months to honor historic achievements. We’re a designating nation. March was first labeled Women’s History Month in 1909, followed by naming February as Black History Month in 1915.
Since then, there have been months selected for dozens of histories and ethnic heritages. April is the month for Arab-Americans and Asian Pacific Islanders; May has been set aside for Haitians and Jewish-Americans. June is Nordic Heritage and Caribbean-American month, it’s also known as Pride Month. July honors French-Americans. September gives us Native American Heritage observations. National Hispanic Heritage observes a split timetable, Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, while October stands for Filipino-American, Italian-American, Polish-American and German-American heritages. Irish-Americans and Greek-Americans share March with women. The calendar is also packed with assorted worthy causes and enthusiasms like ice cream eating in July and Heart Health Awareness in February.
When I mentioned Women’s History Month to a friend recently, he reacted with healthy skepticism. He said, “I have to ask what do these months actually do?” It was an apt question. At a minimum, the monthly set-asides make us aware of what a diverse nation Americans are. Designation provides an excuse to honor pioneers and early struggles, to achieve a mutual identity.
But surely at a time of war and destruction, remembrance of groundbreakers and generations past can be better channeled. Instead I think we should do whatever we can to help those who are being attacked. We need to support our leaders in their efforts to stave off further death and destruction in Ukraine and to counter the moves of a power-driven autocrat.
Today we ought not be split into many hyphenated cultures.
Today we are all Ukrainians.