Figures that should have never been hidden
When I was in kindergarten, and Mrs. Arnold asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said a cashier. It wasn’t that, as a girl, I didn’t feel I could do more I just simply liked counting money and making change. When my parents went to shows to sell their swings, my special treat for being a big help was getting to count the cash box and making sure I had the same amount as Mom did.
In seventh-grade, as our career path posters lined the middle school hallways, I’d decided that I would go to law school, practice for a few years and then run for U.S. Senate. Hey, if Elizabeth Dole could do it and then run (unsuccessfully) for President of the United States, why couldn’t I?
As high school rolled around, I spent my days in a back brace to correct my scoliosis. At that point, I thought maybe I’d become an orthopedic surgeon. However, after biology my sophomore year, I wondered if maybe nursing was more my speed. Then I spent time in a hospital and decided the medical field was no place for me.
The theme here is that my gender never defined my career aspirations. For that, I have my parents and pioneers like Katherine (Gobel) Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan to thank. Who are these women? Well, they’re the brains that got Col. John Glenn into outer space, a story you can see on the big screen in the film, “Hidden Figures”. It’s a movie I implore everyone to go see.
Not only did these women calculate the trajectory for the spacecraft, they also helped design it. I won’t spoil the film, but you can imagine what it may have been like being an African-American woman working at NASA in the 1960s. But because of their intellect, passion and fierce drive, things began to change. Vaughan became the first African-American supervisor at NASA. Jackson became the first female engineer and Johnson, who calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, went on to earn the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It only took until 2015 for her to receive it.
I’ve seen this film twice. And I’ve cried each time, but I have felt more and more empowered, too. Change does not happen over night and although these women were groundbreaking, we are still not on even ground. This past year, I have heard women called dogs, told there was no way she was sexually assaulted because she wasn’t “attractive enough” and that a woman doesn’t have a “presidential look.” And statistically, women still only make 78 cents to every dollar a man makes.
In my own life, personal and professional, I have experienced sexism. I’ve been talked down to by men and have been grabbed in bars. I’ve had my credentials questioned and I have even been asked if my editor was a man and if he’d be writing the article I was doing the research and interview for. Imagine the shock on the man’s face when I could say that I was the editor and I would be the one writing the story!
It’s frustrating. But it’s not just a women’s issue, it’s a human issue. It’s not women’s rights, but human rights. That’s what I’ll be marching for next Saturday.
The day after the inauguration, women across the country will ban together to make sure women are not forgotten or silenced.
Yesterday, the march’s organizers laid out their platform, which includes equal pay, paid family leave and an end to violence against women, as reported by Slate. But it goes further than that. Issues of reproductive rights, immigration reform and worker’s issues are on the table. And right now this feels imperative, especially after the Iowa legislature took the first step on Wednesday to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that is hated for abortion-related service. However, abortions account for only 3 percent of its annual services, according to a report by NPR in 2015. Most of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes towards sexually transmitted infection and disease care, contraception and cancer screening. It’s a service that helps a lot of women.
While the march is titled “The Women’s March on Washington,” it’s not just D.C. where these issues matter. I will be marching in St. Louis; a friend from college will be at the march in Des Moines. Currently, there are 281 scheduled marches across the globe.
Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan did their part; I’m ready to do mine to work to level the playing field.