Last weekend I saw this remarkable movie titled Hidden Figures about three women of color who were instrumental to NASA and our race to put a man on the moon. It was an inspiring story and yet it made me hopping mad that it took this many years to acknowledge the contributions of these amazing women. When I looked up influential women in history, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn or Mary Jackson’s names (the women featured in the movie) did not make the top 100, but Billie Jean King’s did. At least Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks made the list and another heroine of mine, Marie Curie.
I remember when I was nine years old and I read a book about Harriet Tubman. She was my heroine for a long time. I never forgot that book or her contributions, yet they did not teach us about Harriet Tubman when we studied the Civil War in school. I was delighted when they put her on the US Treasury $20 bill in April last year. Marie Curie was a small footnote and only science geeks truly appreciated her contributions.
It got me to wondering about so many issues related to equality and specifically gender equality. How many other women in history has our society downplayed their contributions or even failed to recognize them altogether. I can’t think of a single openly gay woman who was highlighted in any of my history classes. Ellen DeGeneres received the medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016 and for me personally that was a historic moment.
The pecking order for voting rights established by the Constitution gave women the right to vote 50 years after persons of color. The Declaration of Independence is a pinnacle of American principles of freedom and justice, yet the phrase, “All men are created equal” makes it clear that equality only applies to men.
I remember years ago making changes to documents that referred to employees as “he” or “him”. I was always told that it was understood it referred to both men and women. That never sat well with me and I changed the language every time. I don’t think I was very popular for always pointing it out. It doesn’t happen anymore, but it was very common back in the 70s and 80s.
We consider the wise “founding fathers” as the engineers of our superior system of fairness and justice. There is no mention of women at all accept to sew a damned flag. Really? Women still make 80 cents to the dollar compared to their male counterparts. And we wonder why Donald Trump is now in office. Bluster all you want about it having nothing to do with Clinton’s gender. I’m not buying it.
This led me down another path…like the women in the movie, Hidden Figures, lesbians have a double whammy of discrimination to deal with. LGBT romance books make up 4.5% of the market with 69% of that gay (M/M) romances and only 20% lesbian, 10% bi-sexual and 1% transgender. Guess who buys the majority of romance books – women. It’s a fact that straight women are buying more gay romance than lesbian romance. Blows my mind.
This makes me want to go on a treasure hunt for stories about women who’ve made a difference in history, especially lesbians. I want to hear about it, learn about it, and have books and movies written about it, because education makes a difference. I would have never known about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn or Mary Jackson if Margot Lee Shetterly had not written the book and 20th Century Fox had not made the movie. How sad is that? Now I know that none of these women were lesbians, but I still feel infinitely richer for knowing their story and taking one small step toward a more balanced view of history or herstory…
Perhaps someday I will take on the monumental project of picking an influential lesbian in history to write about, but for now at least you can lose yourself in fiction and hopefully some of the amazing characters I’ve created. In light of what happened today, perhaps losing oneself in a good book is the thing to do. I suspect I will be doing that a lot over the next four years. Happy reading everyone!