Gazing with gratitude and reverence at a museum exhibit honoring Susan B. Anthony, who paved the way for women’s right to vote, I shared a knowing smile with a woman my mother’s age standing beside me.
A woman my grandmother’s age standing nearby watched us with approval and shared a smile of her own before coming over to chat as a volunteer docent at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens near Pasadena.
In this impromptu gathering of strangers last year – three generations huddled around the conviction of our nation’s leading suffragist – I found solace and pride. It felt like a rare time-out, a regroup, and a metaphoric group hug. In all of our faces and behind all of our words, I heard this message: “Look how far we’ve come, and look how far we still have to go.”
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It’s International Women’s Day on Wednesday, another opportunity to reflect on women’s pasts and futures.
Two remarkable young sisters, Ashley and Tamara Franco of Fresno, told me during an interview in December that they plan to be president and vice president of the United States someday. Thinking of this pair, it’s hard to imagine that it hasn’t even been 100 years since women were first allowed to vote in this country.
(By the way, here’s a sneak peek of an inspirational museum that my future president, now-10-year-old Tamara, will someday open: a “big humongous tower” representing justice and showcasing artwork from different traditions so people can see “everything that everyone can do in this world” to “show people who are racist to others that we are all equal, that we all have talents in our life.”)
When I think of the goodness of Tamara and Ashley, I feel hopeful for the future, and also troubled by challenges they may still face.
Studies show that women, on average, are still paid less than their similarly educated male peers, for example. There are different factors that play into that and it doesn’t necessarily mean discrimination, but it’s one sign that the world is not yet equal for men and women in many fronts. And women continue to be abused, both physically and emotionally – including by violent statements masked by cutesy labels like “locker room talk.”
Why is this still happening? It all comes down to respect. While I wish everyone respected one another for simply being, some judge, attack, or give less to those they perceive as being different or inferior to themselves. The more we can focus on our similarities, rather than our differences – while also learning how to better accept ourselves – the more we’ll be able to respect one another and build a better world.
We already know women have done, and can do, amazing things. What we as a society still seem to be grappling with is this: Can women and men be equally good at the same kind of things? And do we see the accomplishments of women and men as equal in value?
I say “yes” to question one, and “we should” to question two. I hope more and more people find the same answers in their own way.
The best example I have that tells me this is true is my parents. My kindhearted mother is also an adventurous park ranger and courageous retired volunteer firefighter. My intelligent civil engineer father who can build or fix anything is also a nurturing father who gives compassionate advice and is by far the best cook in our family.
Through them, I clearly see that gender stereotypes are silly and limiting.
This International Women’s Day, I hope we celebrate all the great women and men working to make a more just world where people respect each other, and anything is possible. I’m grateful to be around so many of these people every day.