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  • Writer's pictureN.J. Mastro

Her Story in History

As a student of history, I’ve been privy to how people have overcome great odds, how revolutions changed the course of humankind, and how just when people from the past thought there was no hope, breakthroughs occurred that meant the difference between life and death, hope and despair, or prosperity over deprivation.

I’ve learned how evil people have seized power through the ages and manipulated situations for personal gain, how greed and intolerance have caused gut-wrenching heartache, and how entire nations have disintegrated as the result of failed or misguided leadership. These are the things history records for posterity.

Sadly, when you mention history, most people think of it as a dull set of names and dates teachers forced them to memorize in school. But history is so much more, for it tells some of the best stories in the world! Tales of triumph and risk. Moral courage. Right over might. It’s all there.

Or is it?

History is a matter of record. And perception. Different people can walk away from the same experience, having viewed it from a different lens altogether, and both be right. And sometimes, certain voices are missing.

I’m talking primarily about women, who all too often have been a footnote in the history books, if even that. What I seek to do in my small corner of the world is expand on his-story to include more of her story so the past more fully becomes our story.

Digging up stories of women from the past isn’t easy. But it is fascinating to see all that women have accomplished when one takes the time to mine a little deeper. These are stories the world should know, stories once buried in obscurity, overlooked in the grander scheme of bigger events and more dominant figures.

Even today there is the chance stories of women doing amazing things will be overlooked. We take a lot for granted in America. Women have rights and untold opportunities, but women’s intelligence, talents, and wisdom may go unnoticed because of various cultural tendencies that exist above and below the polite surface. For women of color, the situation is even more troubling.

Ways of thinking about gender continue to evolve. Women are still waiting for full equality.

Case in point. Or several…

  • The Equal Rights Amendment has yet to become law in the United States. It was first introduced in 1923. Congress finally passed it in 1972, a mere 49 years later. But it took until 2020, another 48 years, for the required 38 states to ratify it. But in order for it to become law, Congress has to override the 1982 deadline. It is 2021. Maybe by 2023 we'll get there...

  • It only took the world’s greatest democracy 232 years to elect Kamala Harris as the first female vice-president.

  • In 2020, women led only 37 (7.4 percent) of Fortune’s top 500 companies.

  • At present, women comprise only 23.6 percent of members of the United States Congress.

Women share some responsibility. Sometimes women’s own self-limiting beliefs prevent them from fulfilling their full potential. Culture has had its way with us. It’s why Sheryl Sandberg felt compelled to write Lean In and start an organization to help women achieve their ambitions. It’s why Katty Kay and Claire Shipman wrote The Confidence Code and now dedicate an entire website to fostering confidence in women and girls. You can find endless examples of organizations and movements striving to help women find their voice. Ever hear of Me Too? Around the world, it is still an uphill climb for women for a variety of reasons. In certain places of the globe, it’s an outright battle. Speaking out can cost one’s life. Just ask Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, who is “working for a world where every girl can learn and lead.”

The past, however, can guide us moving forward. In The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, David McCullough, one of the world’s pre-eminent historians, wrote:

“History, I like to think, is a larger way of looking at life. It is a source of strength, of inspiration.”

This is precisely why women’s stories are such an important part of history. From them, women can draw strength that inspires our individual and collective futures for women and men. As I launch my website, I dedicate it to women who left their footprint long ago and those making their mark today—women who’ve demonstrated or are proving in the moment the inherent ability of women to achieve great things. Their stories deserve celebration.

I am glad you’re here.

N.J. Mastro


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