Sally Ride, A Role Model

We have five daughters.

We grew up in an era when great changes were happening with opportunities for women.  We saw the opportunities for women as opportunities for men, too.  Men of my father’s generation were not hands on like my DSH.  The definitions of manliness have shifted.

Today, our daughters take many of these changes and opportunities for which we fought so hard for granted.

While our daughters were growing up, we took great pains to make sure that they recognized the achievements of not only men but of women, too.

In the 4th grade in our school district, the students were required to research and write about a “Famous Missourian”.  They were provided with a list of suggested names – a list that was exclusively made up of men.  No women were on the list.  We made it a point to have them research a famous Missouri woman for this project.

True Story – Our daughter, the engineer, chose to do a report on the late Harriett Woods.  She had the opportunity to not only interview Ms. Woods, but to meet her in person.  As part of my daughter’s presentation to her class, she was selected to be on the radio during an interview of Woods on The Diane Rehm Show on NPR.

When we read books or played music, we made sure that women authors and musicians were included in the mix.

When we watched TV or bought toys, we talked about gender stereotypes and tried to make toy buying more gender neutral.  Yes, our daughters did end up with Barbie’s (much to my dismay) and dolls (of various colors and genders), but they also had building sets and trucks and a variety of items from all the toy aisles.  Dress-up clothes included not just old prom dresses and high heels, but Super Girl capes and cowboy and Indian costumes.

We have been pleased to see that the high school A/P reading list has evolved over time to include not only more women authors, but also authors of color and from places other than Europe.

Sally Ride, Picture from Wikipedia.

The death of Sally Ride on July 23rd made me think about all of this.  You see, Sally Ride was the first American woman to go into space.  She did this on June 18, 1983 – less than 3 months after the birth of my oldest daughter.  I remember the feeling of pride and hope that this one event provided for me as I dreamt about the future for my then baby daughter.

While women won the right to vote in the U.S. in 1920, it wasn’t until the 1980s that many of the laws regarding credit, buying and selling of property, and equal pay and treatment were passed.

I remember those times and the times before that when it was hard to be a single, independent, working woman without a husband.  Hard for me not because of any particular desire to be married, but just because of having to deal with outmoded laws and ideas about women’s roles.  Getting a credit card, buying a home, keeping my maiden name – these were all challenges when they didn’t have to be.  They didn’t have to be because I was a quite capable person – my gender had nothing to do with my abilities in spite of the stereotypes which existed.

So every accomplishment of individual women that we could use as role models for our girls as we raised them was important.

Sally Ride on Challenger, picture from Wikipedia.

Sally Ride was a very private person, and while I was aware of her efforts after leaving NASA to promote math and science education for children, especially young girls, I was not aware that she was even sick much less dying of pancreatic cancer - the same cancer that took the lives of Steve Jobs, Patrick Swayze, Joan Crawford, and Michael Landon, and for which Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Supreme Court Justice, was treated in 2009.

What also came out in Sally Ride’s obituary was that she was gay – one of her listed survivors is her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  This fact was unknown to almost everyone other than immediate family and close family friends (you can read a piece about her obituary here and here).

As a young woman, Sally Ride was a pioneer as the first American woman astronaut and scientist.  In her later years, she built a company that championed math and science education for children.  In her final months, she was a hero who battled pancreatic cancer.  Through her death, she also came out as a woman who also happened to be gay.

Sally Ride was a pioneer, champion, and hero for everyone – boys and girls, men and women, people of all colors and races and ethnicities, and all people regardless of sexual orientation, too.  Because of her accomplishments as a person.  Not because of any particular label.  She is a true role model for everyone.

I believe that we would have raised our sons, if we had some, in a similar fashion to the way we have raised our daughters.  We would have exposed them to good role models, men and women, of diverse backgrounds, cultures, ethnicities, and races regardless of sexual orientation.

Then I might complain about how they, too, seem to take the more varied roles that exist for men and women today for granted.

And, in a way, that would be a good thing.

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