“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
- Alice Walker
Too often we neglect to celebrate the accomplishments of women. We advertise the feminist movement as a fight against sexism, a fight for equal pay and equal rights, but why do we emphasize the things that we don’t yet have? It’s very much a “common enemy” approach to stirring up societal change, and perhaps it’s the reason results are scarce. If we focused instead on the various successes of women, then we could become an inspirational campaign that unites out of support and initiates a snowball effect of women achieving, not just protesting. A lot of the movement also centers around the idea that we need others to give us rights we claim to be inalienable—what a paradox! Although Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson were undoubtedly criticized for their respective roles at NASA, they never stomped their feet and chanted about respect. The three of them proved their worth like any other employee and forced those around them to listen. They never had the mindset that they didn’t have power of their own. When the media and individuals only reiterate negative statistics, the hard work that needs to be done is minimized and eventually overlooked. When successful women gain recognition, however, it reminds us that we already have the ability to create change.
I was assigned to research Maria Beasley, a woman best known for reinventing the life raft. Besides for her safer and more conveniently stored life raft design, she had 15 other patents registered under her name, one of them being for a barrel-making machine that earned her $20,000 a year in the late 1980s. She earned that salary by capitalizing on her engineering abilities, not because she demanded to be paid fairly. The counterargument to my thesis may be that women are working hard, and that they still aren’t being sufficiently rewarded for their efforts. I by no means discredit this notion as it’s most certainly true; society is resisting the change we’re driving at. But as we congregate to march, Alice Walker’s quote must be remembered. We cannot afford to neglect the accomplishments of women that have come before us in an effort to stress the goals we have not yet met. As Mrs. Kingsbury said at the beginning of her presentation, we have a duty to actively respond not only to the wage gap, but also to the strides women like Ada Lovelace and Kathrine Switzer have made.