Maria Gutzeit | Women and the Semantics of Our History


Sometimes semantics matter. We just had International Women’s Day, and in the United States March is Women’s History Month. A lot of folks have been rightly recognizing women’s achievements. 

The evolution of the rights of women and the resulting achievements have been profound in much (but not all) of the world. Is there a difference between what you think of when you hear “Women’s Work” rather than “work?” Are “Women’s Achievements” different than achievements? Is “Women’s History” somehow different than history? 

I’m all for celebrating and giving press to the often overlooked and remarkable achievements of women, but an even stronger position would be to be mentioned sans special category. 

Are there champions of the environment? Astronauts? Medical researchers? Distance runners? Welders? Millionaire soccer stars and famous race car drivers? Teachers? Multi-medal-winning Olympians? Lawyers? Politicians? Parents? Engineers? Construction company owners? CEOs? Yes, there are. What a world it would be if we all knew of folks in both sexes in every single one of those jobs. 

Who takes out the trash and picks up the kids? Who earns the bulk of household income? Who fixes your car? Who is your doctor? Who is cooking dinner? All of us may have our own way of living, but it is increasingly changing, and that is a good thing. 

Picturing certain roles as limited to certain sexes is, well, limiting. 

It is similarly limiting to have panel after panel at business conferences be made up of only men. It is limiting to have the category of “women’s quotes” be peppered with social influencers and fashion icons and devoid of CEOs, governors and scientists. It is limiting to, out of curiosity, tap the “shop women-owned” button on Amazon and see only handmade goods and actresses’ recommendations. Where are the women-owned Amazon distributors? The women-owned electronics and hardware brands? We’ve gotten our own check box, but it seems to be a small, limited box, at least for now. 

Many years ago my mom, a journalist turned stay-at-home mom, remarked how amazing it was that in my family dinner was often “fend for yourself.” I like home-cooked food more than eating out, and often make several large-pot meals a week. 

However, if anyone suggested it was my duty to have dinner on the table, laughter would ensue. Mom thought that was stunning. This was a huge change, in just a generation. Of course, in her generation wearing pants was considered rebellious. 

Today, I can walk into a room of engineers and lawyers and have all of them be female. We are there to get stuff done, and rightly so. Hopefully someone is picking up the kids because it’s not us! 

And, on the reverse side, during the pandemic I have noticed many working dads having to devote part of their day to kid duty. They even suffer the fate of screaming kids in the background on Zoom, just as the working moms do. That is progress. We can now relate to each other even more. 

Is all rosy? No. Between implicit bias and assumed gender roles, there’s a way to go. 

I suspect far more women than men worry about both the laundry and work; both getting balanced meals on the table and their next career move; both picking up the kid on time and earning enough to buy the next car to pick them up in. In the household and the world, duties are best divided, but based on skills and interest more than assumptions. 

The late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said “it helps to be a bit deaf” to slights. “I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade,” she said. 

Yes, the slights continue, but women are adept at keeping on keeping on, and we’ve covered great ground in just a generation. 

When I was growing up, we saw cigarette ads filled with fashionable women saying, “You’ve come a long way baby.” We’ve come even farther since then, be it as equal household members, Nobel prize winners or heads of state. We are on a learning – and doing – path. It will be a fine day when Women’s History Day is needed just as much as Men’s History Day is. 

Maria Gutzeit is an engineer, business owner, past elected official and mom living in Santa Clarita. 

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