For all of us
March is Women’s History Month, and March 8 is International Women’s Day. All things being equal, we women shouldn’t need a separate month or a separate day, but all things are far from being equal.
Here’s one paragraph from a Washington Post article:
“… When textbooks do describe women’s activism, it is generally in tepid terms. Temperance leaders are depicted as Christian do-gooders who detested drunkenness and ribaldry, not as women who could no longer abide being raped by their drunken husbands and who feared the scourge of syphilis. Suffragists, to the extent they are covered at all, tend to be described as women who wanted to clean up politics with their womanly goodness — not as individuals who fundamentally understood that bodily autonomy and political autonomy are two sides of the same coin.”
–Kimberly Hamlin, “The problem with women’s history month in 2020,” The Washington Post, 1 March 2020
Last month I visited London, and as I gazed up at the statue pictured above, I had an idea for a short post about a few badass women. I did not know that March is Women’s History Month; I simply returned home with some photographs and pondered how I wanted to write the post. Ideas kept flowing in, and still I didn’t know the significance of March. And then I began writing, and I began looking things up, and it finally dawned on me that the timing was rather perfect, plus I found a bunch of fun stuff to include. And as often happens with my posts, this one is not so short.
[Note: the women listed here have brilliant stories, all of them, and each is worth reading. In the interest of my own time and sanity, I’m picking only a few to write about, but I encourage you to read more about these dazzling women. Along with many, many others, they fought, often in obscurity, to achieve equality and justice. It’s all online, just waiting for you to discover. Or perhaps you have your own story to write…]
This year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences—the folks who have a big gala every year to hand out Oscars—failed yet again, and I decided to take a stab at rewriting the script for the awards show. I picture something like this…
The nominees in the category of badass queen :
Boudicca, Wu Zetian, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Nzinga Mbandi, Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Theodora, Zenobia, and many more
There I was, on London’s Westminster Bridge, standing in front of the statue of Boudicca, Celtic queen of Britain (see above). Most people stroll right past the queen, because there are myriad other things competing for their attention, like the London Eye, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and photo ops in those red phone booths. I like to stop to pay my respects to the fierce queen standing in her chariot, and admire one of the all-too-rare statues honoring a woman. Boudicca was my muse for this post.
Boudicca was the queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe of eastern Britain. After the Roman conquest of Britain in 43 A.D., two kings were allowed to continue ruling their lands, but gradually the Romans increased financial demands and decreased freedoms. When one king died, his widow Boudicca met with other tribes, formed a military, and led a rebellion. Her troops numbered around 100,000. Three cities were destroyed, including London, before her army was defeated by the Romans. It is said that she took her own life rather than submit to the Romans, who continued to rule in Britain for nearly 400 years.
Although her rebellion wasn’t successful, today Boudicca is viewed as a heroine in Great Britain and a symbol of the human desire for freedom and justice.
The statue was created by Thomas Thornycroft and completed in 1905.
The nominees in the category of action figure :
Christina Koch, Sacagawea, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d’Arc), and an Italian Superwoman
NASA astronaut Christina Koch has just returned from the international space station, where she set a record for a woman in space (328 days). The male record is 340 days, set by Scott Kelly, and I’m thinking it would be really great if we could just call it a record for days spent in space, without having to mention whether it was set by a woman or a man.
At any rate, Koch is a a true action figure. She’s an accomplished scientist who trained for her interview with NASA by rock climbing and exploring remote regions of our planet like Antarctica and Greenland. While in space, Koch conducted a variety of experiments on cellular activity, kidney function, agriculture, microgravity crystals, and more. She rocks!
Bonus: check out the photo at the end of this post, a street art portrait of an Italian Superwoman.
The nominees in the category of not taking this crap any more :
Rachael Denhollander, USWNT, suffragettes, and too many more
Rachael Denhollander was my own person of the year for 2018, when I learned her story of being the first woman to go public with sexual assault accusations against Larry Nassar, a Michigan State University doctor who was also employed by the U.S. women’s gymnastics team. Rachael speaks with a calm, authoritative voice that brooks no argument; she is very clear that this man’s behavior (and that of those who covered for him) was in no way acceptable. Her voice carries a dignified undertone that demands to know why we still have to do this. She filed her complaint in 2016, the same year she told her story to the Indianapolis Star. Larry Nassar’s trial was in 2018, resulting in a prison sentence of up to 175 years.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there, as the recently-announced settlement proposal by USA Gymnastics releases its leaders from liability and makes no provision to discover who was responsible. USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic Committee are clear that they don’t think they bear any responsibility to protect their own athletes, nor to learn the truth of past crimes. Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Denhollander, other Olympic athletes, and attorneys are weighing in, hoping to force a new proposal.
Another story from the sports world is the U.S. Women’s National Team (USWNT), who won their fourth World Cup in 2019. Since it was founded in 1991, there have been eight world cups, with the U.S. winning four of them (plus placing second once and third three times). Now, in addition to their dominant work on the soccer field, these athletes are going to work in a different arena: the courtroom. They’ve filed a lawsuit claiming that they deserve salaries equal to those of the U.S. men’s team. This one is likely to go to trial, and we’ll know the results before this summer’s Olympics. Meanwhile, the well-paid but comparatively underachieving U.S. men’s team has issued a statement in support of the women’s team against the discriminatory practices of US Soccer.
It took a lot of time and great suffering for women to gain the right to vote. There is much to be said on this topic, and much more should be studied in school, but I’m going to try to keep this short. I encourage you—yes, you!—to read more about it; all of us have things to learn as well as a great deal to be thankful for.
The first women to vote? This is a question that’s tricky to answer. Some First Peoples tribes in the United States have a long history of women voting. Friesland (part of modern Netherlands) allowed female landowners to vote in rural elections in 1689; Sweden had limited female suffrage in the early 1700s, but it was later rescinded. Women voted, and then lost that right, in various colonies, territories and states in the United States; Wyoming Territory was the first to grant unrestricted suffrage in 1869. The first nation to grant unlimited voting rights to all adult women was New Zealand in 1893. The United States fully ratified the 19th Amendment in 1920.
But getting there was a rocky road. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson ordered women to be arrested and jailed, and then to be force-fed when they went on hunger strikes. In Great Britain, women started out with calm, well-reasoned arguments, but those fell on deaf ears, and the women began to turn to more drastic ways of getting attention.
One method was setting fire to the ubiquitous red mailboxes, called pillar boxes in the U.K. They’d toss in some tar and oil, and then light it, damaging a fair amount of mail in the process (although not as much as I would have guessed). The first such act took place in Hampstead Heath, London, in 1914, in the box shown above. The plaque reads: “This Penfold pillar box dating from around 1870 is preserved as an historical monument but is not in use. Please post in post office opposite.”
Throughout human history, people have fought and died for freedom and for the right to vote. It is beyond me why some people don’t vote when they have that precious right.
The nominees in the category of the future :
Greta Thunberg, Emma González, Naomi Wadler
Greta Thunberg has been all over the news this past year or so, doing her best to raise awareness for the human-caused environmental disaster that is knocking on our door. Bless her, and bless today’s young people who have made this the pressing issue of their generation. Because it is the pressing issue. If plants don’t grow, and you can’t breathe the air, and there’s no potable water, well, nothing else really matters much, does it?
Emma González is one of the students who stepped into a leadership role as a gun control activist after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting in 2018. She is smart and calm and clear, and she speaks with a level-headed intensity that forces her audience to really listen and to think. Have you seen her speech at the March for Our Lives? She is one poised and thoughtful young woman, and wow, can she make people squirm. It’s one of the most effective speeches I’ve ever seen; click here to watch it.
Another powerful speech at March for Our Lives was given by 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, who spoke eloquently about the often-forgotten and under-reported victims of gun violence: black women. The statistics are horrifying, and Naomi makes it clear that someone out there is paying attention and intends to foster change. It’s a remarkable speech, and you can click here to watch it.
Extra points to the astute future businesswomen in the Girl Scouts who sold cookies outside of a marijuana dispensary.
… And the winners are: All of them! ALL OF US!