I have two daughters. They are growing up in a world where they may vote, learn to read, go to school, study math and science, become professionals, own property, obtain a divorce, control when or if they have children, play sports, decide whether to marry or not and whom to marry, wear pants, leave the house, and have their own rights and opinions.
For much of human history, these things were not permitted to women. We take them for granted, but most weren’t even acceptable in our own country within the past 100 years, and they continue to be unacceptable in many countries today. To be a woman alive in the United States right now is an amazing, truly unique opportunity for myself and my girls. I am reminded of this all the time.
But sometimes I’m reminded of how far we still have to go.
When Facebook switched over to its new layout, my husband made a collage of his personal heroes and favorite characters for his profile header. Here it is:
From top left: Jack White, Gandalf, Dennis Ritchie, George Orwell, Peter Gibbons, Carl Sagan, Ben Franklin, Punisher, Tyler Durden, Aristotle, Hulk, Henry Thoreau, Jean Valjean, Richard Dawkins, William Adama, Stephen Hawking, Socrates, Lordi, Thomas Jefferson, Richard Stallman, Thomas Payne, Neil Degrassi, Ferris Bueller, Kermit, Aragorn and Tesla.
Several of these individuals reflect his interests in politics, history, humanism, science and computers. All of them are some combination of cool, interesting, accomplished and significant.
But not one of them is female.
Given the long history of women’s status as male chattel, it’s understandable that humanity lacks a deep and comparable pool of female leaders, inventors and cultural icons. And those women who are well-known — Eve, Cleopatra, Marie Antoinette, Grace O’Malley — are more infamous that famous. Thus the sentiment, “Well behaved women rarely make history.”
Of course there are notable women. The female gender is not entirely unrepresented. Two of the most memorable women from my childhood were Shirley Temple and Dolley Madison, because both were associated with delicious cherry-flavored drinks and pies.
Seriously, though — Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Susan B. Anthony, Abigail Adams, Princess Diana, Stevie Nicks, Marie Curie, Jane Goodall, Mary Douglas Leakey, Margaret Mead, Madeleine Albright, Maria Montessori, Florence Nightingale, Oprah, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Mary Shelley, and J.K. Rowling come immediately to my mind, but YMMV.
In politics, we have several women. Here’s a list of female heads of state, including Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who happens to share my birthday (April 15) and was the world’s first democratically elected female president (Iceland).
But notice not one of the female leaders on that list is from the United States, which lags way behind other nations of the world in terms of women in politics. Women occupy only 16.8% of the U.S. Congress (Rutgers). Nancy Pelosi is the first female Speaker of the House. Ever. One-third of the U.S. Supreme Court is now female. However, in the entire 200+ years of United States history, only four women have served on this highest law court in the land. Two of them — that’s HALF of the female supreme court justices EVER — were nominated by President Barack Obama.
Some of the most significant areas of modern life — medicine, computers, technology, space travel, and my genre science fiction — are still dominated by men. Where women are involved in history or cultural endeavors, their contributions are often downplayed or ignored. Of the top 40 most powerful people in video games, only one, Jane McGonigal, is female. And let’s not even get started on the issue of how women are portrayed in comics.
I decided to make my own Facebook header. At first, I considered trying to match my husband’s — for every male scientist a female scientist, for every male politician a female politician. Sappho for Socrates, Hypatia for Aristotle?
But then I thought I should do the same thing he did: Select significant people, personal heroes and favorite characters who affected my trajectory in life. So, here it is.
Can you identify them all? From top left: Janis Joplin, the Beast, da Vinci, Oscar Wilde, Dr. Strange, Jayne/Firefly, Ben Franklin, Raistlin Majere, G’kar, Queen Boudica, Belle, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Victor Hugo, W.B. Yeats, Rod Serling, Tim Burton, Vercingetorix, V, Harriet Tubman, Charlotte Bronte, Alison Dasho, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Gaskell, Yogscast, Ernie, Phantom of the Opera and Charles Dickens.
There are several more women I love and admire — my own friends, family, teachers, or employers who mentored and inspired me. A nod is made to this by including my recent hero and current editor, Alison Dasho, who pulled Stellarnet Rebel from the slush pile and just helped me finish Stellarnet Prince.
Of my cultural and historic influences however, I am sad to realize that there are so few women. Perhaps it will be different for my daughters. I hope so.
- J.L. Hilton