In Matthew 26, Jesus visits the home of Simon the Leper. While he’s there, a woman enters and anoints him with expensive perfume. His disciples are indignant. They object to her actions and claim that the money spent on the perfume could have been used to help the poor.
As I read the story, I almost expect Jesus to agree with the woman’s accusers. But Jesus has a way of defying our expectations. Instead of condemning the woman, he criticizes the disciples for their inability to perceive either the woman’s intentions or the spiritual significance of her actions. He tells the disciples, “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13).
As I’ve spent time reflecting on this story, I’ve realized something: we aren’t telling this story wherever the gospel is preached. Jesus and the gospel writers clearly intended for this woman’s story to be remembered and told frequently all over the world, but it hasn’t been.
Does this mean Jesus was wrong? No, I think it means that we’ve failed. This story or rather, the glaring absence of it in our churches and communities, is exactly why we need Women’s History Month. The woman who anointed Jesus is just one example of countless women who have been scrubbed out of our stories by the men who’ve written them.
One of the most consistent criticisms of Women’s History Month (often from men) goes something like:
“Well if there is a Women’s History Month, why isn’t there a Men’s History Month?”
On a basic level, we observe Women’s History Month because every other month of the year is “Men’s History Month.” There’s a reason it’s so easy for many of us to think of prominent male figures central to any particular historical event but we’re seldom able to name the women who shaped those same events. There’s a reason we haven’t told the story of the woman who anointed Jesus.
As long as we continue to wear our patriarchal blinders, we‘ll fail to remember and recognize these women and we’ll also miss why our oversight is so harmful to society and the church. Let’s look at another story to see how easily this can happen.
Many who are versed in biblical history know the story of King Josiah. We remember him as the youngest king to ascend to Israel’s throne (he began his reign at eight years old!). More importantly, we remember his sweeping religious reforms. He tore down idols and brought Israel back to a place where they recognized the primary importance of Torah. When we tell the story, we tend to give Josiah all the credit for these reforms. Some insightful readers may give some passing credit to Hilkiah who discovered the scroll and got the ball rolling on the reforms. But until recently, I had never heard of Huldah.
Huldah’s prophetic ministry is not mentioned with much frequency in Scripture, but her presence is obvious in II Kings 22 when Josiah and the religious leaders are looking for an interpretation of the scroll that was discovered in the temple. In their quest for an interpretation of the scroll and what it meant for them in their day, they sought out Huldah. Huldah spoke boldly and prophetically to these men. She taught them about the Scriptures. And her teaching led to Josiah’s sweeping reforms. So why don’t we tell her story with the same measure of frequency that we tell Josiah’s story?
The reason we don’t know about Huldah—and Jael and Priscilla and countless other women in history—is why we need a Women’s History Month. The stories of Huldah and the woman anointing Jesus at Bethany are two small case studies that point to a much larger problem. As long as men control the story and as long as patriarchy persists unchallenged, women will inevitably be scrubbed out of the narrative.
This leads to another important question. If we erase the women in the past, what makes us think that we’re capable of seeing women in the present? Women today are still relegated to the background in the home, church, workplace, and world, which makes sense given that’s all we ever give them credit for in history. So, if we want to empower the next generation of women today, we should begin by telling the stories of the women who have gone before them.
As I wrote this article, On the Basis of Sex was playing in *select* theatres. My wife and I were excited to learn more about the subject of the film—Ruth Bader Ginsburg—who blazed a new trail. Today’s young women deserve to hear her story and be inspired by it. But the movie isn’t playing in our local theatre. I remember going to see Lincoln in that same theatre when it came out while I was in high school, but somehow a movie about the life and contributions of an interesting woman isn’t relevant enough to show. To me, that says a lot about why we need Women’s History Month.
Until women are afforded the same space in our history books, our boardrooms, and our pulpits, we will need a Women’s History Month. Jesus recognized the prophetic voice of the woman who anointed him at Bethany. But rather than emulating Jesus, we have become like the disciples, criticizing her for waste and ignoring her story altogether.
Jesus said, “Wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will be told, in memory of her.” May we start telling this woman’s story—and all women's stories—the way they were meant to be told, so that one day women’s history will no longer be celebrated just in March, but the whole year.