This summer’s social studies assignment for my fourth grader included reading a biography, or autobiography, of someone they want to represent in an American History Wax Museum. The idea is that the kids will dress like the person they read about and be able to tell their story as if it were their own life experience. Gigi and I both sat down and made a list of usual suspects like Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, and naturally, Elvis. I realized that my daughter would only select someone she was already familiar with so I decided to take the opportunity to expand her knowledge considering our history lends itself to so much more than the popular few. I came up with the brilliant idea to make a list that only included women who made their mark in American history.Image: NASA
I first offered Abigail Adams who gave her husband support and advice that even he didn't know he needed - “Remember the ladies” letter comes to mind. I told her about Helen Keller and, of course, Anne Sullivan - favorites of mine when in elementary school. Helen for overcoming the odds of being blind and deaf to be an advocate for those with disabilities, and Anne for helping Helen realize that she could be said advocate. Both very admirable for using their traumatic childhood experiences to encourage others. I wrote down a few others who opened doors for women, such as Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton, and as an English major, I selfishly chose Edith Wharton, the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (some of you may recall Age of Innocence, it's not just a movie).
I found it a bit of a struggle to make a soon to be nine-year-old understand the accomplishments of my choices. Or, at least understand enough for her to want to read more about these fabulous women to emulate them for her classmates. So what do we do when we need more ideas? We Google it. As a list of women filled the page I quickly scanned and knew immediately who would fascinate my Gigi to the very end, Sally Ride - the first American woman in space! It couldn't possibly get more exciting than that, could it?
My daughter hasn't quite realized that there was a time women couldn't do what they wanted, so this was a sort of awakening for her. We picked up Sally Ride: First American Woman in Space from the library and it’s been a learning experience for both of us. Did you know that Sally was also the youngest American to ever be in space? According to the biography we read, Sally never considered being a female as an obstacle because her parents led her to believe she could do anything and be anyone she wanted, so she did. This is exactly what I tell my own daughter.
This isn't to say it was easy for Sally to soar above the clouds a little over thirty years ago as she was one of six women chosen by NASA in those early days, but what an amazing bio to share with my daughter. Sally made it happen because she wanted it and worked hard to achieve her goals. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen, male or female, and I want that more for my daughter than I've ever wanted for myself. I want her to believe that being a girl doesn't decide her path, but her devotion to what she wants does.
When I read the line from the first chapter of the book, “This launching marks the first time in history that an American woman will fly in space,” I felt a bit emotional. In fact, I was surprised that I got a little choked up and I really can’t explain why. Maybe I feel gratitude toward Sally, or perhaps a bit of pride? I can only describe it as that same feeling that I feel when someone sings the Star-Spangled Banner, right when they get to the part where we “yet wave” and pause for a bit. I’m good until that line of the song and then . . . hot mess, every time.Image: NASA.gov
I may be a bit more enthusiastic about Sally Ride and her accomplishments than my daughter at this point, but she did interrupt with all sorts of questions and observations. Some being silly, like “Why would Sally like Superman best when Spiderman can shoot webs from his arm?” And, more importantly, “What does it mean when the Challenger only reached a force of 3 g’s? What’s a ‘g’?” In case you were wondering, a “g” is one earth gravity, the acceleration of the objects due to gravity on Earth. There’s more to it, but that’s a whole other blog.
Reassuringly, this means my ever-so-intelligent daughter was, at the very least, paying attention. Her inquisitiveness gives me hope that I’m doing my job right so far as she never seems to consider that being a girl is any reason to not be or do what she wants. I look forward to the day when my daughter decides what she wants to be when she grows up and rest assured that I will be there to cheer her on.
"Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see."
Just a bit more about Dr. Sally Ride
- Audio of the 1983 lift-off
- "Remembering Sally Ride, Space Pioneer"
Mashable.com - "10 Badass Quotes from Sally Ride"
Sally Ride Science - Founded by Sally Ride to educate, engage, and inspire students
Women@NASA - Honors Sally Ride
Pardon me I as step up on my soap box, but I thought I would share my personal views on sisterhood. It is defined as a feeling of kinship or solidarity amongst women, a bond. And like with all sisters, there can be differences of opinion, catfights, arguments, etc. However, when we look toward common goals like equal rights or trying to obtain a sense of empowerment we stick together like glue. We all feel we should be able to do what we want with our bodies, but we may differ on issues of abortion. We all feel we should have any job we want, but we may differ on the value of what each job may hold. It is because of this that all women, whether they admit to it or not, are feminist (except those who truly believe men are their superiors, which is a whole other soapbox moment).
Collectively, we wholly advocate the equality of women on some level, and just because you aren’t burning your bra or marching on Washington it doesn’t exclude you. You are a feminist. The term has been diluted through the years, but nowhere does it imply hate men, be a bitch or bring down others for your own personal gain. It’s about using your individual autonomy and having that right without any restrictions from society – in its simplest terms. If there’s anyone who doesn’t like to be told what I can’t do, it’s me…actually, it’s probably every woman on earth.
When it comes to sisterhood, even if we don’t like the same things our 'sisters' do, on some level we can still be proud of their accomplishments…or jealous, whichever. For example, I may not care much for Hilary Clinton’s view of politics, but I think it’s fabulous she's the Secretary of State and ran for president! I was genuinely concerned for her when she was being pelted with shoes and called “Monica” while visiting Egypt. Shoes, what woman doesn’t love them? But, being called by the name of your husband’s mistress? Not so much. Would I vote for her? Probably not. Would I insult her or her accomplishments? Never.
I mention this because I came across an article in Vanity Fair about Condoleezza Rice being one of Augusta Golf Club’s first female members. I don’t really care much for golf, yet I do recognize the importance of this private men’s club finally tossing aside their misogynistic rules. However, the female writer chose to introduce our former Secretary of State as Muammar Qaddafi’s love interest. Seriously? Where is the sisterhood in that? Or, how about an “Atta Girl?” Why isn’t the shame on Augusta for taking so long, instead of it being given to a woman who was our country's Secretary of State? It wasn’t Rice’s fault Qaddafi was a very sick man with an unhealthy obsession. Which this writer also wrote about using phrases like “love affair” that only demean Rice, not Qaddafi. Shouldn't we be proud of any woman who handles herself with class when faced with the infatuation of a sadistic dictator? Talk about lack of focus on the real issues. Aren’t there enough things that divide us and not enough positive things to bring us together? Fortunately there are other female writers who agree with my point of view about giving credit where credit is due, like Elisabeth Bumiller, who writes for the New York Times. Her article was positive and uplifting for women everywhere.
So, I say congrats to Condoleezza being able to play golf in her new green blazer at an exclusive male-dominated club if she wants to. Praise to Hilary for holding her head high in tough situations time and time again at the expense of her husband. Oh, and kudos to the female writer who has the freedom to post articles for a prestigious magazine that provides her the opportunity to express her sardonic accolades to women of accomplishment. Atta girl!
My photo adventures in Florida