In the fifth grade, I was assigned a report on Molly Pitcher, a woman who inexplicably took up a two-page spread in my US history book for bringing water to soldiers during the Revolutionary War. As an 11-year-old often forced to hand out Capri Suns at my brother’s soccer games, I thought: Fine.
It didn’t help that my father insisted that Molly Pitcher was a farce: feminist folklore masterfully invented by Corporate Publishing Houses to foil the industrial elementary school complex and sell more textbooks to its female-led labor force.
“Please tell me where she is buried,” I typed out in my first email ever (from my father’s address) to the textbook publisher, attempting to subtly question the validity of Molly Pitcher’s existence and the publishing house’s motives. The reply I received was essentially a version of “no comment” that would be appropriate to send to a child.
I understand now that Molly Pitcher may be considered more of a composite image representing the efforts of countless women during the Revolutionary War. But at the time I wanted to know: Why would they put this invented person in my book? Where did all the real heroic women go?
We know that women have long been silenced and erased in the writing of history, even if they are the ones actually enduring more of it. But many individuals today are doing the work of digging for and surfacing the stories of women whose legacies were forgotten or trivialized, like the filmmaker documenting the stories of trans people who threw the first brick at Stonewall or the genealogist tracing the lineage of families who were enslaved well into the 1960s. When we uncover these histories we discover new heroes, lost traditions, unlisted names on our family trees. We also get a more realistic view into the missteps of the movements or institutions we admire—like the women’s rights movement’s exclusion of LGBT women, sex workers, and women of color— and the people who challenged these groups to actually live up to their promises of progress.
"There is an alternate universe out there we may want to explore."
These complex, holistic portraits, both of people who made tremendous gains for humanity in the face of adversity and those who simply lived their lives—choosing to love who they loved, to create the art they sought to create—are invaluable. By giving weight to these histories, we give agency to those whose lives still sit outside the archetypal story lines of today.
Broadly previously asked Gina Luria Walker, an intellectual historian and the director of Project Continua, the New School’s initiative to give women’s histories the attention they deserve, what would happen if we began to take these narratives seriously. "We would have a new planet," she said. "There is an alternate universe out there we may want to explore."
That’s an exciting thought. So we’re celebrating Women’s History Month on Broadly by asking: Whose stories do we need to ensure are told today—so that years from now, there’s no question about their existence, let alone their legacies? Every day, we'll highlight one person making history now.
Though we’ll continue to examine the past with a focus on forgotten women in history, this month we’re looking closely at the present moment—at an undeniably transformative time for visibility around gender identity and for re-conceptualizing our notions of femininity. What does it mean to identify as a woman? As femme? These are, of course, big questions, and ones that we will shape the identities of generations to come. We owe it to them to be inclusive, thoughtful, and truthful.
As we honor the past and interrogate the present, we’re also asking subjects to help us imagine a new future for women and gender non-conforming people. What happens when we construct a world where our stories are valued, rather than trivialized? If we build a future with the needs of people across the gender spectrum in mind, what would that alternate universe actually look like?