Fort McCoy held its 2023 Women’s History Month observance March 16 at McCoy’s Community Center with the Department of Defense’s theme for the month: “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
Jodi Vandenberg-Daves, who holds a doctorate degree in history from the University of Minnesota and is the professor and chair for race, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, gave her presentation as part of the observance. Vandenberg-Daves discussed several topics related to her work at the university.
Each March, the Department of Defense (DOD) pays tribute to the women who, through their determination and contributions, have shaped America’s history and whose efforts continue to pave the way forward, according to the DOD. Women’s History Month originated in 1981 when Congress passed Public Law 97-28, which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week beginning March 7, 1982, as “Women’s History Week.” After being petitioned by the National Women’s History Project, Congress passed Public Law 100-9 which designated the month of March 1987 as “Women’s History Month.”
According to the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, the 2023 theme for Women’s History Month was chosen by the National Women’s History Alliance (formerly the National Women’s History Project). Per the institute, they wrote via the Alliance’s press release that the theme reflects, “From the earliest storytellers through pioneering journalists, our experiences have been captured by a wide variety of artists and teachers. These include authors, songwriters, scholars, playwrights, performers, and grandmothers throughout time.”
In her presentation, Vandenberg-Daves spoke about the importance of telling those “stories.”
“I love the reference to all the collectors of those stories and the creators of stories,” Vandenberg-Daves said. “One of the issues, though, and … perhaps one of the reasons why we have Women’s History Month is that women’s stories have tended to more likely be silenced in a culture that is based on a lot of patriarchal norms and traditions. (We) talk about that when I teach this, you know, at the college level. I … talk a little bit about the history of the institutions and all these different civilizations throughout the world that have tended to not let women into public spaces. That the public spaces have been more for men … whether that’s a religious space … or a workspace or a political space or a military space, whatever it might be. … All those spaces … women have tended to have less access.”
Vandenberg-Daves said it wasn’t until the 1970s, in many ways, that things had improved for women in many ways.
“You know, it wasn’t until the 70s that they told, say medical schools, you’ll let zero to 1 women in per year. Well, that’s not legal anymore. That was the 1970s seventies. … So there’s been a lot of formal exclusion of women from those spaces and then also informal exclusion . And so when you’re not part of the public, your story tends to be less visible. Obviously, we’ve had important changes. We’ve had activists of all genders working towards those changes.”
Vandenberg-Daves also gave ideas on how women can further tell their stories.
“So, the contents of women’s stories — we can think about the kinds of questions that we could be asking of the women in our own lives,” she said. “How do women demonstrate resilience in oppressive situations? Whether it’s discrimination, violence, or poverty, or having to leave a war-torn country. What roles women played in families. This is something I talked about a lot in our history of motherhood class. I teach where we talk about (the) invisible labor of managing everybody’s schedules and … everybody’s doctor’s appointments and going to the parent-teacher conferences. And as also mentioned, the maintainer of culture and language and being an advocate for children.
“It’s not that fathers don’t do this as well, but it’s more socialized towards women doing this work,” Vandenberg-Daves. “And those are things I like to always kind of make visible because it’s actual work that sustains families and communities and is often invisible. So how have women told stories beyond that, and through art, literature, theater and then also within families and communities.”
Fort McCoy Garrison Commander Col. Stephen Messenger thanked Vandenberg-Daves for sharing her expertise and her story as well.
“Doctor, thank you so much for being here,” Messenger said. “As you said earlier, you said, the more you know history the more liberated you are. Saying that you don’t know your past, you’re doomed to repeat it. So true. So, I have this conversation at home with my 17-year-old daughter every night stories like this — the women’s stories … human stories.
“When she was six years old, we drove by a bunch of cheerleaders, and I don’t even remember saying this, but she tells me every other week,” Messenger said. “But I said on the cheerleaders, she said, she said ‘I wanna be a cheerleader’ when she was six years old. And I said something like, ‘Julia don’t be a cheerleader, be someone who gets cheered for.’ Now, I’m not disparaging cheerleaders by any means. Everyone needs a cheerleader in their life, and everybody needs something. But she really took that to heart. And 11 years later, she is a significant … women’s activist … and she is someone who gets cheered for and she tells her story unabashedly and encourages other women to do the same. So, what you said up here reminds me of the hero’s journey, right? Everybody heard a hero’s journey. There’s a person, they have a big obstacle, they have challenges, they go through a journey, and they succeed, then they say that story. It’s the hero’s journey.”
The 2023 Fort McCoy Women’s History Month observance was organized by the Fort McCoy Equal Opportunity Office. Garrison Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Amy Noble with the Fort McCoy Religious Support Office also supported the event as well as the staff with the McCoy’s Community Center of the Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation.
Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.
The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly every year since 1984.
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