Conservative women in the back, feminists in the front

October 20, 2009 | NeW Staff

Since 1996 The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) has lobbied for space in Washington D.C. to display the history and advances of women in marble hallways and exhibitor rooms. The House passed the bipartisan bill with a voice vote in mid-October, leaving only one hurdle: the Senate. According to the museum’s website, the special interest museum will cost $250 million to $350 million and will display the social, cultural, and historical roles played by American women.

First question, why do women need a “special” museum when prominent female figures are already recognized in the Smithsonian’s American History Museum? And isn’t there already a section displaying the historical faces of our previous First Lady’s and the achievements of women’s suffrage?

According to advocates of the private, nonprofit museum mere “rooms” in a general museum are not enough:

“NWHM will reclaim the ‘missing half’ of our nation’s history by educating and informing the public on women’s many contributions.  It will tell the story of 52% of our population through the eyes and reflections of women — a very different story from that seen through men’s eyes.”

Expect to see notables like Rosa Parks, author Laura Ingalls Wilder and Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space fill the museum exhibits. But how will conservative women be painted? Will the boisterous first female Republican Vice-President candidate Sarah Palin and anti-Equal Rights Amendment activist, Phyllis Schlafly be painted as women of virtue or anti-feminists? Will Virginia Woolf and Betty Friedan be displayed as visionaries for women’s lib or destroyers of male/female gender roles?

It is important to recognize the achievements of women throughout history, just as it is important to recognize the achievements made by men. But in demanding equality, supporters of the NWHM expect women to be treated entirely different than men—equal just won’t do. The National Man’s History Museum, I think not. I am by no means saying that the museum itself will devalue the historical significance that women have had in history. It does, however, symbolize the unparallel requests that women demand from society not for equality but for superiority.

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