Group of girls being sent home from McKinley High School for wearing “dungarees” and “slickers,” 1946, Chicago.
tryna get myself some dungarees
Women have continued to be involved in the creation and advancement of civilization throughout history, whether you know it or not. Pick anything—a technology, a science, an art form, a school of thought—and start digging into the background. You’ll find women there, I guarantee, making critical contributions and often inventing the damn shit in the first place.
Women have made those contributions in spite of astonishing hurdles. Hurdles like not being allowed to go to school. Hurdles like not being allowed to work in an office with men, or join a professional society, or walk on the street, or own property. Example: look up Lise Meitner some time. When she was born in 1878 it was illegal in Austria for girls to attend school past the age of 13. Once the laws finally eased up and she could go to university, she wasn’t allowed to study with the men. Then she got a research post but wasn’t allowed to use the lab on account of girl cooties. Her whole life was like this, but she still managed to discover nuclear fucking fission. Then the Nobel committee gave the prize to her junior male colleague and ignored her existence completely.
Men in all patriarchal civilizations, including ours, have worked to downplay or deny women’s creative contributions. That’s because patriarchy is founded on the belief that women are breeding stock and men are the only people who can think. The easiest way for men to erase women’s contributions is to simply ignore that they happened. Because when you ignore something, it gets forgotten. People in the next generation don’t hear about it, and so they grow up thinking that no women have ever done anything. And then when women in their generation do stuff, they think ‘it’s a fluke, never happened before in the history of the world, ignore it.’ And so they ignore it, and it gets forgotten. And on and on and on. The New York Times article is a perfect illustration of this principle in action.
Finally, and this is important: even those women who weren’t inventors and intellectuals, even those women who really did spend all their lives doing stereotypical “women’s work”—they also built this world. The mundane labor of life is what makes everything else possible. Before you can have scientists and engineers and artists, you have to have a whole bunch of people (and it’s usually women) to hold down the basics: to grow and harvest and cook the food, to provide clothes and shelter, to fetch the firewood and the water, to nurture and nurse, to tend and teach. Every single scrap of civilized inventing and dreaming and thinking rides on top of that foundation. Never forget that."
What would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy – women forming the majority of a parliament – is a reality in one country in the world, Rwanda.
In fact, women are making gains throughout all of Africa, but these achievements have been met with a loud silence from the western feminist movement.
Women’s Forestry Corps, UK 1918.
When Amelia Earhart (b. July 24, 1897) disappeared over the Pacific on July 2, 1937, she left behind a legacy shrouded in legend, glory, and modern-day mythmaking. Celebrated as a pioneering aviator and the first woman to cross the Atlantic on a solo flight, she was also a smart businesswoman, a generous caretaker, and a relentless champion of education. She applied her remarkable tenacity to everything she took on, demanding a great deal of herself and never failing to live up to it, in public or in private.
Though she grew up in a troubled home, financially strained and with an alcoholic father, that tenacity would come to define Amelia from a young age. Firmly set on getting an education, she saved up money and eventually sent herself to the Ogontz School, a junior college in Pennsylvania, in the fall of 1916. She was twenty-one, significantly older than her classmates, but she compensated for the missed years by taking on an exceptional amount and array of academic work. In her correspondence with her mother, young Earhart outlines her scholarly voraciousness, which would later translate into her drive for aviation:I am taking Modern Drama Literature, German and German Literature outside. French three and five in which latter we are reading Eugénie Grandet. And Senior arithmetic and logic if I can. Besides reading a good deal and art, Bible, etc. etc. I am elected to write the senior song, but you know the more one does the more one can do. […] Despite my unusual activity I am very well organized to do more the more I do.
But during her Christmas vacation in 1917, Earhart was moved by the wounded soldiers returning from WWI and decided to volunteer at a military hospital, performing arduous nursing duties after receiving training as a nurse’s aid from the Red Cross. She found a profound calling in the life of service and, having received her mother’s permission to leave college without graduating, she returned to the hospital in 1918 to nurse the war wounded full-time. In the fall of 1919, she enrolled in Columbia University as a premed student.
But Amelia soon found her faith in the skies. In 1920, she fell in love with flying and the rest, as they say, is history. Eight years later, in June of 1928, made her first transatlantic flight as a passenger, and four years after that, she flew across the Atlantic as a solo pilot.
One of the most astonishing, little-known facts about Earhart’s life — a testament to her tenacious spirit and capacity for self-transcendence — is that she accomplished all of her feats despite debilitating chronic sinus pain, for which she was hospitalized multiple times and which was only exacerbated by the open-air cockpits that exposed her to harsh winds, high pressure, and extreme cold. Still, like fellow reconstructionist Frida Kahlo who made art history despite severe chronic pain, frequent hospitalizations, and more than thirty operations, Earhart achieved what she did without complaint or cry for pity, driven by optimism and dedication to her calling.
Despite her passion for the skies,however, Earhart always kept education, especially the education of women, a primary focus of her relentless dedication, lecturing in universities around the world and even inspiring a course in “household engineering” at Purdue University, where 1,000 of the 6,000 students were women. She also counseled young women on their careers. At Purdue, she advised graduating girls to try a certain job but not be afraid to make a change if they found something better, adding:And if you should find that you are the first woman to feel an urge in that direction, what does it matter? Feel it and act on it just the same. It may turn out to be fun. And to me fun is the indispensable part of work.
(Fittingly, she titled her memoir The Fun Of It: Random Records of My Own Flying and of Women in Aviation.)
Her views on marriage, too, were incredibly ahead of her time and would be considered progressive even today — yet another expression of Earhart’s singular gift for navigating new cultural territory with courage and conviction.
Since this is the week of sister bragging, have I mentioned my sister Mary is a Ph.D. candidate at Harvard, an amazing scientist and she might even go into space one day? She has her eyes on Virgin Galaxy and SpaceX, and as a woman in science, holds her own and wows all who listen to her lectures, read her papers or see her work.
I love my family.
Uncredited Photographer Red Army Snipers c.1942
The soldier on the left, Lt. Lyudmila Pavlichenko, was one of the Red Army’s most accomplished snipers during World War II, with 309 confirmed kills of Nazi soldiers, including 36 Nazi snipers.
During a press conference while on a tour to the US in 1942, this combat veteran was pestered with the obnoxious questions from the US press, such as: Why aren’t you married? You are already 25, why don’t you have a family and kids? Why aren’t you wearing any make-up? Why does your skirt hang so long?
Her response: “Gentlemen, yes I’m 25 years old and I’ve already killed more than 300 enemy soldiers and officers. Don’t you think, gentlemen, that it’s time for you to stop hiding behind my skirt?”