International Women’s Day

March is Women’s History Month, and today is International Women’s Day, devoted to celebrating the economic, social, and political achievements of women, past, present, and future. In fact, this year is a banner year, being the centennial celebration (1911-2011.)

My favorite saying about women in history is “well-behaved women rarely make history.” Translate this adage through the lens of this blog: women history-makers were excellent at disputing cultural shoulds.

Any woman who has ever made history began by rehearsing in her head, debating and talking back to the status quo, asking “who says?” before finally moving into execution of her famous act. The kind of questioning that I live by, and hope to encourage through this blog.

Many ill-behaved women have made history by challenging cultural ‘shoulds.’ Rosa Parks didn’t listen to the bus driver order her to give up her seat to a white passenger. Elizabeth Blackwell and Maria Montessori became the first women physicians(U.S. and College of Rome, Italy, respectively). Who says women had to be nurses? Sally Ride was the first woman in space, topping the accomplishment of a Ph.D. in astrophysics! Who says women can’t do math? And to think that women who applied to be astronauts in the early days of the U.S. space program had to wear high heels and hose during qualifying tests (pre-panty hose, that would mean a garter belt, too!) That brings to mind another adage about women in history: “Don’t forget Ginger Rogers did everything (Fred Astaire) did backwards . . . and in high heels!”

Psychologist James Prochaska has determined that there are stages in the intellectual process of change, steps we must engage in before we can finally act. These stages are precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. Stroll through the lists of women in history, and imagine the challenges to traditional thinking that were necessary precursors to action. I’m guessing that considerable time was spent contemplating those changes, revising a few assumptions, before these women came close to preparation and action.

We need to cut ourselves some slack if our process of talking back to the status quo, in society or our own heads, takes some time. Find your own pace, time to contemplate and prepare. And maybe, in honor of International Women’s Day, forget being well-behaved and make a little history of your own today. Join the ranks of the history-makers by revving up the chorus of ‘who says?’ in your life.

Talk back–and tell me how you honored the tradition of the day.

What did I do all day?

If you are like most women– including me–you collapse into bed at the end of each hectic, exhausting day lamenting all the items left on your “to do” list. You toss and turn awhile, jockeying around in your mind how to get it ALL done tomorrow. Doesn’t matter what “all” entails–housework, childcare duties, work assignments–we all have an endless list. And it keeps us up, unlike the ever-quotable Scarlett O’Hara: “I’ll think about that tomorrow.” Our brains seem to be hard-wired to focus on the negative, rather than the positive. I console myself with the thought that this was a survival tactic for our ancestors. If you failed to tune into danger (i.e., the negative), you would have been waltzing gaily through the meadow picking wildflowers when a sabre-toothed tiger snatched your baby. No wonder it’s so hard to beat.

Consider, too, the nature of modern work. As we’ve shifted to a service economy, much paid work has no visible “finished product” in which to take pride. There’s no evidence of work completed, compared to harvesting crops, weaving cloth, or building tables. Or maybe “finished” is short-lived, much like housework. You fold the last clean sock, take off the day’s clothing, and the next load is already creeping up on you. Even pet care: you screen the litter box and the cat sidles in to mark her territory again. If childcare is your primary profession, it’s a quarter century before you can even tally results.

Because of these issues, frustration is inherent in our work lives. Here are my favorite remedies for the perennial question “what did I do today?” when the automatic answer in your head feels like “nothing.”

Develop an avocational interest that creates a product. I believe this is the thrill behind scrap-booking (in addition to the quilting-bee style social get-togethers known as “crops.”) You SEE tangible, permanent results– unlike the rest of your day. This is why I love to paint a wall, sew a cushion or window treatment, or crochet a doily (yes, I’m a real throwback to Grandma’s day.)

Keep a “Did Do” list. At the end of the day, rather than allowing yourself to tally what is left undone, shift your attention to what you DID accomplish. Write it down, for the written word adds proof. This quote by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow suggests this isn’t just simply a 21st century problem: “Each morning sees some task begun, each evening sees it close; something attempted, something done, has earned a night’s repose.”

As a postscript to Monday’s post about improving women’s lives to honor International Women’s Day, here’s a quick and easy task. Click on this link and the pink “CLICK to GIVE” box on the site. Money will be donated to fund mammograms for women in need, for every click. Thanks.

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day (IWD). IWD celebrates the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, IWD is a national holiday. The them for 2010 is “equal rights, equal opportunities.” It’s a good day to recall the inspiration of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Excellent timing for congratulations to Kathryn Bigelow, who was the first woman to win an Oscar for directing in last night’s awards. In addition to the “best director” honor, her film “The Hurt Locker” took home the statuette for best picture as well. Another ceiling smashed!

Choose to honor IWD in a way that works for you today. Write a letter to your lawmakers supporting women’s issues. Check out, “where moms and people who love them go to change our world,” if political action appeals to you and you to focus your passion.

Work to change the life of an individual woman –right next door or worldwide. One of my mother’s favorite organizations is, whose mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Donations are loaned to entrepreneurs in third world countries, the majority of whom are women. Or support your favorite organization that empowers women with a donation of time or money today.

Honor a friend or loved one with special kudos about their accomplishments. Or maybe just honor your own achievements and reward yourself with an hour off today, toasting to women everywhere. Recoup a little energy to put back into battling the tide of your own life.

Never underestimate the influence you can have on another woman’s life, individually or collectively. Even if that woman is you.