On This Women’s Equality Day, Acknowledging Those Who Paved the Way
Indomitable. Unstoppable. Fearless. I’ve been surrounded by strong women for as long as I can remember, so it never occurred to me as a youngster that my gender could be a potential liability or a barrier to achieving whatever I wanted out of life.
My mom, Becky, grew up on an isolated ranch in northeastern Oklahoma. Her closest neighbor—my grandmother’s sister—lived three miles away. In college my mother majored in Education, because “that and Nursing were the only options for women at the time.”
No obstacle, however, stopped her from becoming one of the first female sportscasters at the network level and the first female co-host of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. The sexism and dismissiveness she encountered as a woman covering football, basketball and the like must’ve been infuriating. But I never heard a word about that until recently, and then only after I asked.
Just one generation before her, I think of my grandmothers. On the paternal side the ebullient Grace, a child of Italian immigrants who left her orphaned before she came of age. Grace went ziplining in her 80s and I recently found a picture of her—around the same age—smiling from ear to ear while zipping down a hill on a sled. She personified joie de vivre, but did she ever long for a career?
Or my maternal grandmother Betty, the center of my world. She lived her entire life on the ranch where my mother grew up, parenting five children and regularly cooking lunch for 20 hungry men. This left her little time to partake in our shared affliction—wanderlust. Was she fulfilled? Or did she secretly dream of life as an explorer, roaming the unchartered corners of the world?
Unfortunately, it’s far too late to ask. But as I get older, I’m keenly aware of how indebted we as women are to those who came before us. Both the ones who did the best they could as females in their eras, and to those who stood up and said “we’re not gonna take it.”
August 26 is Women’s Equality Day, commemorating the 103rd anniversary of women attaining the right to vote. As we mark this occasion, we owe it to the Bella Azbugs, Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelts and Ida B. Wells of the world —as well as to those whose names were lost to history—to acknowledge their sacrifices. It’s so much easier to “go along to get along” in this world, but as historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich reminded us, “well-behaved women seldom make history.”
So to all of the women who shouted from the rooftops demanding equality so that my contemporaries and I could follow our dreams—we say thank you.