Women’s History Month Q&A: the female teachers of Arundel High School weigh in

By Rachel Heller

In honor of Women’s History Month, the female teachers of Arundel convene to discuss standing up for your rights, discrimination, contributions of women, and hopes for the future.

Forty years ago, women were absent in the vast majority of school curriculums. Countless female icons idolized today were unsung heroes: no Curies, Tubmans, or Earharts rolled off the tongues of everyday Americans. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the week of March 8 as National Women’s History Week. The year of 1987 saw “week” morph into “month,” coinciding with the steadily increasing public awareness of the roles women serve in history and society.

The month offers a moment of reflection and admiration for the glass-ceiling breaking, mountain-moving, tenacious women of the past, present, and future. Sometimes you don’t have to look too far to find noteworthy women. They may be in your own backyard—or in this case, your own high school. In celebration of Women’s History Month, the female teachers of Arundel High School have given their time to provide insight on living as a woman in today’s society, as a tribute to one of the month’s key ideas: letting the voices of women be heard. Here are their responses: wide-ranging yet collective, analogous to the feminine experience.

What does women’s history month mean to you?

Ms. Woods: Valuing what women contribute every day.

Ms. Lange: I think it means being purposeful about focusing on the contributions of women. I think that we tend to focus more traditionally, especially in past decades and past centuries, on the contributions of men. It’s making that conscious decision to look for the contributions of women because they’re everywhere, but sometimes they’re overlooked.

Ms. Yuscavage: Anytime there’s a month to celebrate something, I think it means that we as a society haven’t given and still aren’t giving enough attention, because if we have to set aside a month, that’s good, but it’s also problematic. So in my mind, it’s good to give women’s issues more attention because they deserve more attention. But, it’s a shame that we still have to think about giving them more attention.

Ms. Bender: I think Women’s History Month is super important and personal to

Ms. Bender at the “A Day Without a Woman” march in DC.

me in the fact that I actually did participate in International Women’s Day, “A Day Without a Woman.” I think it’s always important to remember that while we should celebrate things like Black History Month, Native American History Month, Women’s History Month every day, but having a month that is solely devoted to just focusing on that marginalized group in society is important to help educate people and empower young women, especially, to stand up for their rights.


Ms. Towns: I appreciate the dedicated time frame to actually focus on women’s contributions throughout history. There have been many; many of them are still being uncovered and discovered because women’s roles weren’t usually seen as historic. As we just saw with Hidden Figures, there was an entire group of women who contributed to the space program but were never even acknowledged that they even had a role given the civil circumstances of the time. I would love for women to do their own history. A lot of women don’t even know their own history. Before we expect anyone else to understand or appreciate it, I think women should do a little bit of their own history; they should do a little bit of their own family history. My mom decided to do some family background. It wound up that we are members of “Daughters of the American Revolution,” but it was from her effort to find out, we found out that we are actually members of the revolutionary families, and that’s pretty cool.

Ms. Ricker: I understand the need for months like this as far as recognition and the parts that we play. However, I think that we are part of history, so having a specific month dedicated to us—I don’t know—implies that are we not paying attention to women the other eleven months? So I have mixed feelings about it. I have mixed feelings of even having a need for it, because we have been largely ignored in history. But, that being said, I have two daughters so I’m happy that they get extra time in their classes this month to learn about the amazing women who have helped us get to where we are now.

Which female icon from history empowers or inspires you the most?

Ms. Woods: Maya Angelou, Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins: she was the first female cabinet member under FDR. She had a whole history of organizing for workers and just devoted her life to bettering society, so she was wonderful.

Ms. Lange: I’d say some of the early church women—Phoebe comes to mind, she was an early church leader—because that was a really patriarchal society and they really challenged that and became really strong leaders and they were kind of overlooked. Part of me is empowered to think about their role at the time, but also the fact that their legacies had to overpower so much patriarchy. Joan of Arc as well, if we get more into the middle ages, and modern day Malala Yousafzai inspires me for the same reason that she’s really challenging the roles of women in a respectful way; not in an overly ostentatious way, but saying that all women deserve the same treatment as any other man in society.

Ms. Yuscavage: Right now [AP Lit] just finished reading Sula by Toni Morrison, and any woman like Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, have been huge in changing the way that we see women, specifically African American women. I would also say AP Lit earlier in the year read The Awakening by Kate Chopin which is an amazing novel, that is also tragic, that really portrays the state of women in the 1890s, and it’s exciting to see how much has changed and sad to see that some things haven’t.

Ms. Bender: One of my most coveted people is Maya Angelou. I love her. I think she’s strong, she’s brave, she’s amazing, but one of her quotes is “When you know better, you do better,” and for me that’s really powerful because it is something that I really truly live by. As an educator, I think it’s important for my students to know better, and then they can go out in the world and do better, and from a social action perspective, I think it’s important to help people find out what’s wrong in the world, teach them about it, and give them alternative ways to make the world better.

Ms. Towns: When I was a younger girl, I always thought Joan of Arc, just because she was brave and tomboyish—I was kind of tomboyish. The ending wasn’t really to my liking, but I appreciated her stepping up and actually adult men recognizing that a leader is a leader is a leader, no matter what shape she took. As I grew older and I learned more about Eleanor Roosevelt who, interestingly enough, given the complexity of her marriage to the president, actually enabled her to have much more social freedom and to take on many social and civil situations that would have never been afforded to a first lady at those times. . . . Currently, there have been a number of athletic women that I admire for taking stands and coming forward. I remember when the Williams sisters first came on to the tennis world. I remember when Brandy Chastain kicked the goal and whipped off her shirt—which I thought was extremely empowering. Every year, there’s another woman for me to appreciate and admire: Michelle Obama, just for her eloquence and her connectivity to everyone. I look forward to students that I taught to look at them in the future as seeing them in politics or business or social services and be saying, “I taught that kid! Look at that kid! I’m going to vote for that kid!” It’s a never ending thing for me.

Ms. Ricker: The woman who just jumped to my mind is Maya Angelou, and I think it’s because she was a gorgeous writer, and that she was just so brave that she went through such hardship and adversity and was able to overcome it in such a beautiful and powerful way and to help empower other women to do the same. I’m so into other women empowering each other.

Have you ever experienced discrimination just for being a woman?

Ms. Woods: I wouldn’t say I have felt limited in any way in the United States. With the way I was raised and my parents, I’ve always felt I could do what I wanted to do and make the choices I wanted. I’ve lived in other places as an adult where that was not the norm or that wasn’t the normal expectation for a women’s role. I have felt that difference, but it was always in a place where I felt like I wasn’t from there and I had to kind of fit into the different norms about women’s roles outside the home, inside the home, things like that.

Ms. Lange: I have; it’s usually subtler ways. We live in a more open society in this area. When I was in Salt Lake City, there was a lot more discrimination that was felt because of the dominance of the Fundamental Mormon Church. But even in small ways like when I walk into a Home Depot, they assume I don’t know what I’m looking for. Or even my husband is so well meaning, but he’ll go like, “Oh, don’t hang that poster or that picture, I’ll get it when I get home.” Well, I can use tools too; I can do this stuff.

Ms. Yuscavage: I think I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t felt discrimination as far as jobs or schooling. But I think that I hear misogynistic comments all the time and even there’s language that we use without realizing that it’s sexist, and I hear that on a daily basis.

Ms. Bender: My degree is in psychology and education, and when I first finished my undergraduate degree and we were doing job internships I noticed that the majority of the males in my cohort received job offers more quickly by men who were psychologists, so that made it more challenging for the females in the cohort to get jobs.

Ms. Towns: In the world, my ex-husband at the time was in corporate America and he was even aware of that ceiling for women. And it was hard to fight that fight, and as we see just now with the marines that it’s 2017 and women are still being taken advantage of in the work place, being degraded in the work place, and the fact that people allowed it. You got that link, you looked on that link, you saw what was on that link, and either said nothing, or did nothing. So that kind of pervasive toxicity exists, and it’s disconcerting and upsetting for me.

Ms. Ricker: I had to play sports with boys for a long time, and I had no issue with that. I think it’s discriminatory when you say “Play like a girl,” or “Throw like a girl.” I mean, now that Dove has come around and they’re trying to make that mean something different, but I think women are associated with weakness and I think that that’s wrong.

What changes do you hope to see in the future for women?

Ms. Woods: I want women earning as much as men for the same work. And I want to see more women in more leadership positions in politics, in the state legislatures, in the house, in the senate, a female president, female corporate leaders. There’s still a real gender gap in these leadership positions in the pay. I was actually reading something over lunch today that one third of men still would prefer women to work only in the home. There’s a very entrenched mindset that women should be in the home exclusively. Not even both, working outside and inside, taking care of both and earning money and all that stuff—that it should be exclusive. There’s supposed to be more choices than that. That’s what the modern feminist movement is about I think.

Ms. Lange: I would love for women to have the opportunity to choose the way that men do. I applaud the woman who stays at home and raises her children, I applaud the woman that wants to have more of a traditional role, but I think that we need to celebrate those women who want to break out of that mold and not look down on them. And I think we as women need to break out of that mold, because I think that we are definitely in these camps that are either the traditionalist or the feminist, instead of celebrating that just as men have so many choices and we want to encourage them to continue expressing those choices, whether being the progressive stay at home dad or being the primary bread winner, that we need to celebrate all the roles that women can play.

Ms. Yuscavage: I hope that we don’t have to think about women’s history month in the future, like women are simply a part of society. But I think the specific things that are important: women need paid maternity leave, because currently women are penalized for having families with the health care systems. Even here in the school system, when a woman is on maternity leave she loses experience, so that is completely ridiculous. Paid maternity leave, I think, is really important. But I think anything having to do with women’s health care, we need to be able to make choices about our bodies, we need to be able to do it without men’s input, just like women, we never give input on what men do with their bodies.

Ms. Bender: Gender equality, especially in the form of pay. With the cost of living that we have, with everything that we have, we still in a society today where I think just last week I was reading this information where white females earn 67% of every dollar that men do, and black African American women make 50% of that, and Latinos, it’s ridiculous, like 23%. I think that my biggest thing is equal pay for equal work, and it’s something I strongly fight for and advocate for.

Ms. Towns: I want to make young women understand that the possibilities are endless, but yet in the world we’re living in, it appears as though the door is wide open, but you still need to be smart, and savvy, and aware, and understand that if it doesn’t seem right, if it doesn’t feel right, if your gut is going, “Wait a minute,” it’s not right. . . . On the other hand, women have much more opportunities that are available to them. We are knowledgeable, but when women get angry and upset, they’ll take action. That’s why I cannot wait until the 2018 elections, because I would hope all kinds of people will get involved. We’re not talking negatively about anybody or any group, we’re saying, “Suit up, get in the game.” It’s hard, you know, it’s hard enough being a chick. But to suit up and get into the political game, the corporate game, and I would hope women would support women, not blindly support, but support women, because women should appreciate the effort and the guts it takes to take that step. . . . I would hope that young women would be aware, but go—go out there and do.

Ms. Ricker: I would love it for humans to just see each other as other humans, and we don’t use our differences to divide us. That’s what I hope for, that women are valued as they should be, as productive, powerful pieces of society that we cannot do without. We cannot do without them, and I want to see girls grow up with a strong sense of self, and self-worth, and self-value, and self-esteem, and that they are taught to love themselves. That’s what I want for my daughters, that they grow up in a space where they love themselves no matter what.

What advice would you give for future generations of females?

Ms. Woods: I think a lot of women suffer from self-imposed limitations; you don’t set your sights as high as they could go. I feel like this for myself. Why did I go into teaching and not into being a lawyer or being in some other high status job? I feel like to some extent I kind of made an estimate or a judgment that to have a family life and a professional life, that this was a good choice for me. I feel like it has been an overall good choice, but sometimes I wonder if I reduced my own personal goals a little bit. I don’t think men do that. I don’t think men think about, “I’m not going to be a lawyer, I’ll be a teacher because that’ll help me spend more time with my kids.” That’s not what men do.

Ms. Lange: To be brave, and don’t let society dictate who you are, that you can be anything. And like I said, that could be being a stay at home mom, that’s wonderful that’s amazing, but that could be being the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

Ms. Yuscavage: Be strong, be brave, and be whoever you want to be, and whoever you want to be is perfect.

Ms. Bender: Be strong, be authentic, and that’s what I think is the most important. I think when people, regardless of gender, just holistically, when they are authentic to what they believe in, and have confidence in believing in what that is, that they can make changes. They can change the world.

Ms. Towns: Sometimes young women are so busy, they’re trying to be liked, or involved, they really don’t understand that they need to create their limits and their boundaries. . . . Women are naked, guys are always dressed, women are in subjected positions. If you look at videos, if you look at games, if you look at movies, often times we’re still living in a culture where women are subjugated. . . . The boundaries you put now can make you limitless later, so creating those and respecting those boundaries can actually make you unbounded.

Ms. Ricker: To be strong, and understanding that that looks different for everybody. To find their voice and to use it, that’s what I want my kids to be able to do. I want them to be able to do work that moves them and inspires them. I want them to contribute to society positively, I want them to care, I want them to understand that we belong to each other, and that we have a responsibility to each other, regardless of any differences that may exist. I want them to be empowered, and I want them to know their value, that’s what it comes down to. And that we are enough, and everything we need is already inside of us, but we just search for it or look for it outside of ourselves. Everything we need, we already have, so it’s just a matter of tapping into and introducing ourselves to new opportunities that then allow us to see how strong we are, how brave we are, how courageous we are, how smart we are, how creative we are.

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From left to right: Ms. Bender, Ms. Woods, Ms. Yuscavage, Ms. Towns, Ms. Lange, Ms. Ricker.