I have two daughters. They are growing up in a world where they may vote, read, attend school, study math and science, work outside the home, own property, divorce, control when or if they have children, play sports, choose to marry or not, 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 favorite characters and people 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 oppression, it’s understandable that humanity lacks a deep and comparable pool of female leaders, inventors and cultural icons. But there are many notable women. 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 just to name a few.
In politics, 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.
I decided to make my own Facebook header with significant people, personal heroes and favorite characters.
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
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