Thursday, March 28, 2019

Hank Sanders: Sketches #1658 - Women’s History Month

  March is designated as National Women’s History Month. We have National Women’s History Month because the history of women, like that certain other peoples, gets lost in the shuffle of history. Women’s History Month is just a beginning step in recognizing and acknowledging women who overcame great odds to achieve great success.

  There is an African proverb that says, “Until the lion tells his side of the story, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” That’s true of the story of women as well. As long as men are telling the stories, they will always glorify men. It will always be history. Therefore, we will never know the great challenges and achievements of women. Women must tell the stories of women so it will be her story rather than "hisstory."

  Whoever tells his story or her story makes decisions about what the great challenges were, who faced the great challenges, who overcame the great challenges, and who celebrated the overcoming of the great challenges. We men have one set of criteria for determining these factors. For us men, the criterion is usually about the exercise of power in contests with other men. For women, it may well be other criteria. If the writer does not understand that something was a great challenge, he cannot go to the next steps of who faced, overcame, and celebrated the overcoming of the challenge. I do not know those criteria for women, and I am holding myself back from sharing my perceptions. However, I will offer one example that involves my mother, and every child can speak about his or her mother. March is Women’s History (Herstory) Month.

  Family is the very foundation of society. It is the most critical institution. However, men rarely tell the overcoming story of family. In my opinion, women usually value the challenges and achievements of family very differently. Our very language is pregnant with prejudices for the male character such as history and heroes. There is no place for "herstory" and "sheroes." My mother, Ola Mae Sanders, was heroic or should I say sheroic. She will not make the usual history books. She was "sheroic" because she met and overcame the great challenges of stifling poverty, a huge family, a limited formal education. and oppressive white supremacy.

  The Ola Mae Sanders family was not just poor, but “Po.” At one time the family lived in a three-room house with nine children, a mother, and a father. But she led the family in overcoming that poverty. Not only did she eventually do better herself, but all of her children escaped poverty. Every child has owned his or her own home and more. Ola Mae Sanders was sheroic.

  My mother overcame the great challenges of having a limited formal education. She had a seventh-grade education. Her husband, Sam Sanders, just went to the first grade and could not write his name. Yet, they managed to graduate 12 of their 13 children from high school. (The 13th died as a baby). All but two of her children went to college, and several obtained doctorate degrees. In the face of these challenging circumstances, this was a great achievement. March is Women’s Herstory Month.

  I have touched on the size of the family, the poverty, and limited education. However, I need to further explore the challenges of a big family. A big family meant not having the kind and amount of food needed. But Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. A big family meant stuffing 11 persons – nine children, a mother, and a father – in three rooms, (a kitchen, a middle room, and a front room). But Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. The family couldn’t afford toothbrushes, but she taught the children to take twigs from a certain tree, peel the bark, chew the end until it became soft and use salt to brush their teeth. Ola Mae Sanders took what she had and made what was needed. Poverty added to the challenges of a big family. A big family added to the challenges of poverty. But my mother met and overcame both challenges.

  The challenges of poverty, a big family, and a limited formal education were multiplied by the oppressive burden of white supremacy. White supremacy constrained my mother at every turn in what education she could get, what work she could do, what money she could make, what she could accumulate, what respect she could have, what she could say to white folk, where she could go and so forth. It was a heavy burden on her self esteem and the self esteem of her children. But Ola Mae managed to achieve a sense of self-worth for herself and impart a sense of self-worth in her children. Ola Mae Sanders met and overcame these collective challenges. In addition, she became a strong community leader. People came from miles around to seek her wisdom. She had her flaws, but so does every hero and shero. Ola Mae Sanders was sheroic. March is Women’s Herstory Month.

  History and/or "herstory" acknowledge and celebrate the overcoming of great challenges. Did Ola Mae Sanders not meet great challenges? Did Ola Mae Sanders not overcome great challenges? Is her story not history? Can you see most men perceiving and writing this as history? It is herstory. It is history. March is Women’s History Month.

EPILOGUE – Because the victors write the history, I hope more women will see their victories and write their stories so we can have "herstory" as well as history.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represented District 23 in the Alabama Senate from 1983 to 2018.

No comments:

Post a Comment