Photo: ‘Made by Her’
In a straight-White-male dominated world, acknowledging the achievements and accomplishments of minorities becomes more important every day. Not only are schools, offices, and institutions trying to teach more nuanced lessons regarding these minorities, but so are streaming services. Hulu specifically has created a Hub dedicated to films and television created by women (called “Made By Her”), a worthy gesture toward celebrating diversity. But how well thought out was this decision? What else can be done to make history months more than just a section on a website? And are these months helpful or hurtful?
Why does the USA have A Women’s History Month? How is it Celebrated?
According to womenshistory.org, Women’s History Month was a presidential proclamation that “was set aside to honor women’s contributions to American history.” (Other months, such as Black History Month, Asian Pacific Heritage Month, and Native American/American Indian Heritage Month, are highlighted for the same purposes.) So, for 31 days, kids in schools make posters of and give presentations on their favorite historical female figures (i.e. Amelia Earhart, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, etc), bars and restaurants host specials for women, and streaming services feature selections dedicated to female creatives. Sounds like a pretty good deal. So, what’s the problem?
The Pros and Cons of History & Heritage Months
Although riddled with good intentions, the presidential proclamation of history months has created a society with a limited attention span for minority groups. In a 2021 article for the Chicago Tribune, writer Dahleen Glanton shares the necessary rethinking that has to be done for these months, specifically for Black History, “Black History Month and its predecessor, Negro History Week, served an invaluable purpose at the time of their inception decades ago. But times have changed, and the goal of Black History Month needs to come into sync with where African Americans are today.” Needless to say, these niche months that were created, need to evolve and shift their purpose the same way that the movements/cultures/societies evolve.
Writers for Beer is for Everyone support Glanton’s argument, sharing that although the months are beneficial in bringing awareness, they don’t make “these diverse and underrepresented groups feel included…People who are in majority groups could see the people in the diverse groups as others and not like them. This has the opposite effect of inclusion.” Instead of normalizing these “others”, these months have the potential to isolate these cultures from the pack. Beer is for Everyone continues to make the argument that a month isn’t an adequate amount of time to learn about the nuances of one group. In fact, it often lends itself to “generalizing and only focusing on certain aspects of a group or culture [that] could also lead to stereotyping and all of the problems that it causes.”
In an article for HuffPost, contributor Lynn Yeakel also recognizes this lack of nuance. The month teaches us about women leaders, but only a limited number of them. “Women’s History Month is a good thing… [but] it’s important to keep telling the stories of American women so that they can serve as inspiration, role models, and evidence of achievement throughout the month of March and throughout the rest of the year as well.”
When The New York Times interviewed five women of different professions and racial identities about their thoughts on Women’s History Month, many of them echoed the same concerns as the aforementioned articles. Dr. Nneka Dennie, the co-founder of the Black Women’s Studies Association, shared that she believes the month should be “a moment of acknowledgment. We need to acknowledge how incarcerated women and women immigrants detained at the border are experiencing a reproductive crisis.”
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And Deb Haaland, the secretary of the Department of the Interior, seconds this statement, emphasizing the need for stronger representation, “Though we have more Native women serving in Congress, a woman of color in the vice president’s office…we still have to recognize that the disadvantages that we face are created by a system designed to keep us out… [this] makes Women’s History Month all the more important.” The month needs to be more than a celebration of women. It needs to be a time of change, and the beginning of more conversations about women, not the only time they are discussed.
Making Strides Still Comes with Its Share of Problems
In 2014, The Open Book Blog for Lee and Low described heritage months as a time when minorities are “put in a box. The observance month can easily lead to the bad habit of featuring these books and culture for one month out of the entire year.” Similar to the recommended reading list Lee and Low presents per month, streaming services like Hulu offer selections of films and television shows that match the heritage/culture being nationally celebrated – as they should.
When I first started writing this article, I was under the impression that Hulu only featured minority stories per mensem. But I was wrong.
In Hulu’s hubs, there are sections dedicated to the “stories” (film and television shows) of Asian & Pacific Islanders, Black people, Hispanic & Latinx, queer people, and women. On other platforms, including Netflix and HBO Max, these selections dedicated to minority groups are hidden or nonexistent, except during their respective months. This lends itself to the idea that history/heritage months have become a placeholder for representation so that for the rest of the year these creatives do not have to be featured.
But along with Hulu’s efforts to feature minority art comes patriarchal patronization. The “Made By Her” section on Hulu is described in a subheading as “A genre-spanning collection that shows what women can do – as directors, writers, and creators – plus stories that were awarded the ReFrame Stamp for a gender-balanced production.” This blurb created some upset.
Playwright, provocateur, and spoken word artist Pandora Scooter shared that the language is “condescending” and “insulting” in the “Made By Her’s” description. “It shouldn’t be necessary to point out that women can do things because we should all know that women can do things,” she said, “If the corporatized media were fair then they would integrate women’s work and Black work and Latinx work and Indigenous work into the programming of their channels. They would just be available all the time, and it wouldn’t be necessary to point out that women can do things.”
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When I asked her about her feelings on history months in general, she shared similar complaints as the women interviewed for The New York Times, “Any of these themed months needs to be highlighted as a month during which we highlight these topics, not the month that we exclusively admit that these topics are important…these ‘minorities’ are peppered into the streaming services for a month, but that doesn’t mean it should be the only month.”
Hulu’s year-long hub selections are a step in the right direction. But it’s disheartening to see other streaming services lacking the same active awareness. In an ideal world, there would never be a need for these months, as people of all races, creeds, sexuality, professions, etc, would be “normalized” and integrated naturally into mainstream society. But, until then, the responsibility of these streaming platforms is to hold themselves accountable for the groups they represent, not just monthly, but year-round.
Where do We Go from Here?
As a mixed-race female, I’ve always struggled with history months. It’s good that these times force major corporations to acknowledge minority groups, but at times, I feel like I’m a token for these corporations to prove that they are woke for the brief period of time dedicated to “my people”. My life and my story feel like they only matter when they can give these businesses clout for acknowledging my art… As I write this, I find myself struggling to make sense, but it just reminds me of how complex and nuanced representation is. Despite good intentions, mistakes and ignorant decisions are being made, and people like me are continuing to be “othered”.
The answer to the aforementioned question “are these months helpful or hurtful”, is just as nuanced as the causes themselves: these months are helpful, and these months are hurtful.
Businesses like Hulu are trying. And representation in art and Hollywood/films are just as important as representation in political offices. The problem isn’t really about the Hulu hubs or Netflix’s suggestions. We need better representation higher up the ladder and more women and minority groups in the rooms with the people who make the decisions for these streaming services. When the right people are in the room, sites dedicated to featuring creatives will be held accountable to share these stories more than just a month out of the year.
Honey, everyone should know what women can do. We should know from a young age that women are just as capable as men, and we shouldn’t have to be taught that from a blurb on Hulu.
On a regular basis, go watch some art by “minority” groups. Below, I’ve linked some lists of films/television shows directed, written, or created by women. Happy Women’s History Year!
By Z Murphy
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Z Murphy (she/they) has a passion for storytelling. As a queer person of color, Z always aims to challenge their readers to look at art in a new light by putting racial and sexual identities in conversation with pop culture. With this dedication to inspiring respectful and insightful dialogue, Z is thrilled to be a part of the Hollywood Insider cohort, a media network that supports content focused on perceptive exploration rather than gossip.