Women’s History Month: An Intersectional Lens

Updated August 25, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Women's History Month began in 1978 as a singular day, later becoming a full week and finally an entire month of celebration in the United States. Each year focuses on one theme, such as "Writing Women Back into History," "Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business," and this year's theme: "Providing Healing, Promoting Hope." The theme for Women's History Month in 2022 focuses on the health and work of caregivers and frontline workers after two years of the ongoing pandemic. 

Mental Health Conditions Affect People Of All Genders

We celebrate Women's History Month as a time to honor the accomplishments of women throughout history and the present day. The month is also devoted to progress in the movement for gender equality and finding action points to work against the issues women deal with today. There's also Women's Health Month, which takes place in May and shines a line on how gender minorities, including women, face a variety of disparities in healthcare.

To celebrate Women's History Month with an intersectional lens, take a look at some of the contributions of women who were members of minority groups. Another holiday that look at with a lens of intersectionality is the International Day For the Elimination of Racial Discrimination which commemorates the African Americans who were killed and injured during open fire from police at a peaceful demonstration in 1960. We'll also look at how women's contributions shaped our modern world and what we can do to move forward with Women's History Month in the future.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks was not asked for her consent for her lasting impact on the medical field, but her life likely changed the lives of everyone. In 1951, Lacks had a tumor biopsied at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. During that biopsy, cells from her tumor were used to create a cell line called HeLa, which is still used in medical research today.
Lacks' cells were used without her consent, meaning that neither she nor her family was ever compensated or informed. As an African American woman, this brings up the question of discriminatory policy in the medical field. Though it was common practice to use a patient's cells without asking permission, Lack's race and gender likely played into the use of her cells for so many different purposes, especially without compensation.
In 1975, Henrietta Lack's surviving family were finally notified about the cell line's widespread use after an author, Rebecca Skloot, told them. Though she passed away in 1951 from the cancer that initially brought her to Johns Hopkins, Lacks’ story continues. Her cells have been used for the research of the polio vaccine, cancer, AIDS, genetics, immunity, and even vaccines for COVID-19.

Faith Spotted Eagle

Faith Spotted Eagle has been a force in environmental, Native American, veteran, and education activism for decades. A member of the Yankton Sioux Nation, she more recently became the first Native American in history to win an electoral vote during the 2016 presidential election.
She has been a figure in PTSD counseling, a school counselor, administrator, and educator, and an outspoken advocate for Native American rights. In addition, she is a proud activist for teaching girls about their culture as a founding member of the Brave Heart Society and was in the Treaty Committee NGO in the United Nations. Now in her mid-seventies, her power has not waned in all her years of activism.

Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman was the first of many things. She was the first Native American and the first Black woman to obtain a pilot license. She was also the first Black person to get an international pilot license, paving the way for those who came after her. Coleman was born in 1892, living in Texas until she was old enough for college at 18 years old. 
After dropping out of college because she could no longer afford it, she became a manicurist before deciding to become a pilot. Schools in the United States were not accepting people of color nor women, so Coleman learned French and headed to France to get her license. After studying flying and learning a new language, Coleman then became a pilot, later earning her international license.

Elizabeth Peratrovich

Elizabeth Peratrovich, the Grand President of the Alaska Native Sisterhood, was a pioneering activist for Alaska Natives. Born in 1911, Peratrovich grew up in Petersburg, Alaska as a member of the Tlingit nation. After experiencing lifelong racial discrimination, including housing discrimination and exclusion from public spaces, Peratrovich and her husband encouraged local officials to prevent such acts. She pushed for anti-discrimination bills, ending with the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, which was passed in Alaska.
February 16th is celebrated in Alaska as Elizabeth Peratrovich Day in honor of her efforts towards equality for Alaska Natives. Her work highlights not only an important moment in Alaskan history but a progressive movement nationwide in the journey to equality.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson's work as a gay rights and AIDS activist is seldom studied in history class but was essential in bringing us where we are today. Johnson was born in 1945 in New Jersey, later moving to New York City and performing as a drag queen with the troupes Hot Peaches and The Angels of Light.
In 1969, the Stonewall Uprising changed the course of history as what some call the moment that sparked the revolution for LGBTQ+ rights. A police raid at the Greenwich Village gay bar "Stonewall Inn" on June 28th led to several days of protesting in the city. Also known as the Stonewall Riots, these protests culminated in community organization to fight for LGBTQ+ equality. 
Johnson is known to have played a part in the demonstrations, pushing back against police and standing up to unjust treatment. Stonewall was just the beginning of a long fight for equality, but Johnson's role was instrumental.

Jillian Mercado

Jillian Mercado has been a significant figure in recent women's history as a model with a physical disability. Born in 1987 in New York, Mercado uses a wheelchair due to a diagnosis of spastic muscular dystrophy. She always had plans to change the fashion industry but her career has taken off since she began modeling in 2014.

Mercado is changing the norm when it comes to fashion standards, disability representation, and more. She chose to study marketing in university as she believed it would give her access to the politics behind fashion, so she could become a leader in the industry. With her recent impact on the fashion industry, she will likely be a celebrated name in Women's History Month for years to come.

Women In America And Mental Health

Of the many issues facing women today, mental health is one. Around 20% of adult women in America live with a mental health condition. In addition, women may face specific mental health challenges in positions such as caregivers, as this year's Women’s History Month theme is dedicated to. Fortunately, women often feel empowered to seek treatment for their mental health conditions, including accessing therapy options. And, studies show that online therapy can be an effective treatment for conditions that women tend to face more often, such as postnatal depression. For Women's History Month this year, try having a conversation with women in your life about mental health and breaking taboo.

At BetterHelp, we encourage anyone, regardless of gender identity, to start treatment when experiencing mental health challenges.Find the support of a licensed therapist to discuss issues surrounding gender discrimination, occupational stress, and more. 
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