I’m not going to lie: I’ve completely lost track of my life. I don’t think I’ve had a coherent thought pattern in weeks. My journal has turned into a randomized list of commands and incomplete sentences. “Just do it,” I urged cryptically on March 12th. “Toddlers asking me why I’m not married,” I wrote the next day with an uncharacteristic pithiness. “Remembered why I first wanted a museum career,” I scribbled a week later in purple ink without elaboration. “Write more soon” has lately become less a of reminder and more like a testament to how scattered my mind has been. I mean, let’s face it, I even forgot to write a funny note about my weird dream last night.
(For the curious: I was simultaneously in calculus class, teaching a group of toddlers, and making out with my crush in a dark hallway…)
The point is: nothing in my life has made much sense recently, and, while it hasn’t been entirely unpleasant, it has made me an awfully absentminded person. I forgot my house keys at work the other day, and I haven’t been able to locate my peanut butter jar for a full 24 hours. I’ve misplaced my dance shoes twice, and I completely forgot to celebrate Women’s History Month. (More accurately put: I forgot that I forgot to celebrate Women’s History Month.)
Yes, I am ashamed. The guilt each remembrance (and subsequent forgetting) has brought is insurmountable. It’s like…why even celebrate my birthday now? What does it matter? The girl I thought I was is gone! I’m a monster now! I’m a disgrace–a mere cog in the patriarchy’s machine!
Melodrama aside: I did forgot, and that is kind of unacceptable, because, as short and awkward as it is, Women’s History Month is about remembering. It’s about taking the time to build a niche in our historical memory for women and using that to better understand ourselves and our communities.
At work today, I learned that elephants are an “umbrella species.” They have such a wide impact on their habitats that, if you protect the elephants, you’re most likely protecting entire ecosystems at the same time. I’d like to say the same thing about women. We make a grave mistake when we assume that women’s history is a narrow, superfluous study. Women fight; women discover; and women inspire. When we ignore and minimize the broad impact women have had on our society–culturally, politically, scientifically, philosophically, socially, everythingly–we ignore and minimize ourselves.
Now, I can always plan for future posts honoring awesome historic women, but I can’t go back and make those posts this month. All I can do is make this one post count. So, before I close this crazy thought tornado, please enjoy a heartfelt list of the women who have empowered me in my life. I hope it inspires you to remember all the women who have done the same in yours. Thank you.
My mother. The things my mother has done for me could fill volumes. It started 9,034 days ago when I was born. Growing up, I saw her graduate twice and start a career. Despite always surprising myself with my achievements, I never seemed to surprise my mother. After every performance, recital, and competition, she was there, smiling and saying, “I knew you could do it.” She let me live my dreams–whether that was wearing my Sailor Moon sweater to the Student Council picture in first grade or driving me to every figure skating performance in the city so I could meet Johnny Weir. When I was accepted to Oberlin College, she put her hand on my knee and told me not to worry about the money. When I was writing my thesis, she listened patiently while I read all 80+ pages over the phone. She never stopped me from running through the mud, and she always encouraged me to live adventurously. She gave my body life and my mind an unbreakable spirit. Truth is, I wouldn’t be anything without my mother.
My teachers. I am extraordinarily lucky that, before I was old enough to understand what inspiration meant, I had teachers who advocated for and believed in me. My second grade teacher, Mrs. Blosser, was my pen pal for years, encouraging me to write by saying she was proud of me. My third grade teacher, Mrs. Arnold, gave me multiple books about wild, daring pioneer girls who, she said, reminded her of me. In sixth grade, despite all odds, my teacher, Ms. Simonetti, motivated me to succeed in math for the first time. The list goes on and on. History, German, politics, literature, music, dance…without my early teachers’ encouragement, there is no way I would have found my passion and my voice.
(Note: I did not use most of my teachers’ names in this brief appreciation because I live by the philosophy that if I can google them, they can google me. Let it be known that that I am immensely thankful for all the teachers that have played a positive role in my life, and that, yes, I do google my teachers.)
My college professors. I’ve written about it ad infinitum, but it can always be said again: I had the best female professors in my time at Oberlin. Across departments and disciplines, the women who taught me taught me that there are no boundaries to what a woman can be. They introduced me to new languages, new books, new constellations, and new ideas. The more I learned, the harder I kicked against the bars of my limited, sheltered definition of womanhood. Even after I graduated, their support never wavered. They employed me, continued to instruct me, and cheered me on to bigger and better things. I entered Oberlin a soft, squishy caterpillar. I’m not going to be cliche and say I left a butterfly, but I definitely grew into something. A co-worker once told me that he had never met anyone who appreciated their education like I did, and I have these strong, intelligent, supportive women to thank.
My bosses. My female bosses have, at times, been demanding and strict, and I have often rebelled against them with a youthful ignorance that was not charming (to say the least). Therefore, you can imagine how grateful I am that they never once gave up on me. When I look at where my career is headed, I realize that none of it would have been possible without the guidance and supervision of these women. Everything practical I have learned about teaching, children, history, and museums, I have learned from the smart and competent women that I have probably [lovingly] complained about more than once. So, consider this short paragraph an apology for anything I said or may yet say in frustration. I love you. I appreciate you. You are literally the light guiding my life right now, and I think that’s pretty awesome.
My friends. When I was fourteen, I wrote essays about anime while my best friend wrote about reproductive rights. The truth is that I have always been ignorant, and my friends have always been there to make sure I don’t stay that way. To my woman friends, you enrich my life. From you I have learned to recognize my privilege and different species of salamanders. I have learned to appreciate different cultures and different types of beer. You showed me how to make my boobs look bigger without padding, how to paint my nails with cool patterns, how to achieve a dream, how to compromise, and how to own my independence. You have helped me find what is good and beautiful about myself, and you deserve to know the same about yourselves. Each and every one of you is a magical, passionate human rainbow. What I’m trying to say is that your accomplishments uplift and inspire me daily, and I love you.
Women I have never met. This month is for you, Ida B. Wells. It’s for you, Elizabeth Blackwell. It’s for you, Mercy Warren and Hannah Adams. Zitkala-Sa and Heidi Lamarr and Josephine Baker. Anna Julia Cooper and Mary Church Terrell. Sally Ride and Henrietta Swan Leavitt. To Lucy Stone and Antoinette Brown Blackwell, I raise my glass. You, too, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Sandra Day O’Connor. Jane Addams, Gloria Steinem, and Angela Davis. Edmonia Lewis, Abigail Adams, Lydia Maria Child–I don’t have time to type or organize all the names that are in my head right now! I am literally just typing them as they pop into my brain, and I could go at this forever. So, allow me just to pause and issue a blanket statement: thank you for fighting for me and my fellow women. You have given me courage when my courage faltered. You have given me a voice when my voice fell silent. Thank you for never giving up.