Those who are liberated from oppression frequently have the strongest obligation to uphold the principles and social ethics that their oppressors ignored. As Black History Month comes to an end, we are reminded of the centuries of sacrifices made by African-Americans, and how those sacrifices continue to build our nation. Throughout those centuries, small groups of African-Americans have committed racially motivated acts of revenge. Using the "eye for an eye" mindset, they justified their horrible deeds by recalling the daily atrocities and injustices forced upon them in the not-so-distant past. The greater majority of African-Americans, however, chose to work, study, vote (later), defend and uphold America's more noble hopes. You know their names and their stories. They are Wheatley, Vessey, Douglas and Tubman from the early days; Dubois, Robinson, Marshall, Parks, King, Poitier, Winfrey and Obama from the latter. It is because of them and millions like them, that our leaders, policy makers, fathers -- our very society -- was held to that higher standard. Because of them, slavery was abolished, civil rights for all were reaffirmed, suffrage succeeded and feminism established a foothold.
The triumphs of African-Americans (including women) and those of American women continue to be oddly connected by, among other things, sequential calendar celebrations. The Theme for this year's National Women's History Month (NWHP) is Women Inspiring Innovation Through Imagination:Celebrating Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).
As a lover of science, technology, engineering and yes, mathematics, it is all too easy for me agree with this very long theme. The first woman scientist I learned of was the famous Polish Physicist and Chemist, Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Her genius and self-sacrifice in the late 18th and early 19th centuries produced breakthroughs in radioactivity that we continue to benefit from today. But then, as a lifelong admirer of women, I've never supposed them to be less anything. My admiration comes from wanting respect and fairness for my mother and four sisters. This, I wanted while and even after being taught repeatedly in school that "it's a woman's prerogative to change her mind." To change her mind about what? Such lessons have always made it more difficult to balance the books on the similar credits and practices like "a man's word is his bond." What then, is the word of a woman worth? Having given her word, will it then guide her choices?
Look, there is absolutely no way to doubt nor deny the foul situations (I could use other words) in which some women have and continue to live with daily. Talking recently about women in combat, I told a male colleague that evolution arrives without the courtesy of advanced notice. By and large, the position of American women has evolved and they've made considerable social, financial and political gains in our society. So far throughout my life, and the lives of more than a hundred million other males, the overwhelming majority of my teachers, professors and medical providers have been women. In my lifetime, I've had four male first-line supervisors or department directors; the rest have been women. I've proposed marriage three times but, during a particular seven-year stretch (in the 20th century), I received two marriage proposals -- from two different women who were not single mothers. Estimates of the number and percentage of women who earn more than me are staggering. You are woman and I hear your roar. I've been hearing it for quite some time. Do you roar for us all, or for yourselves? I shouted "Girl Power" while leading a group of girls in a push-up contest at my son's last birthday party. What will women shout for the boys?
This year's NWHP theme compliments the global effort to empower girls through education. The first week of National Women's History Month will offer screenings of Girl Rising, a film by Academy Award nominated director Richard Robbins and a group of journalist collectively known as 10x10. Their film is part of that global effort to educate girls in developing nations. This they believe will "change the world," and they are right.But how will it change the world? In the same developing nation where 11-year-old girls are forced into marriage and raped, there are 9-year-old boys being killed by 12-year-old boys who are forced into psuedo-military gangs. I have witnessed the daily existence of men and boys in Haiti, Honduras and Nicaragua. Is the need to educate the boys less important? If a girl in a developing nation is not receiving an education, there's every certainty that a boy in that same country is illiterate.
We will celebrate the scientific and similar achievements of women. I'm also interested in the political and philosophical position and achievements of women. Through her philosophical beliefs alone and by example, my sisters learned at our mother's knee that they could do any job a man can do; my brothers and I were taught to be descent, men true to our word.
If ever a "[woman-inspired] innovation through imagination," it was First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. This woman singlehandedly battled on multiple fronts for racial equality, women's rights and justice, and she did it while supporting her husband, the leader of the free world, during a world war and a national economic crisis. She said, "One's philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes... and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility." I wonder about the choices women will make during and long after the month we spend celebrating their achievements. Equality gives more than the gifts of rights and privileges. It also offers ethics and other liabilities. Has equality for women become an opportunity to use the "eye for an eye" mentality? Do we recognize that evolution's arrival has brought with it a new challenge of equality? Will women, like those incredible African-Americans, uphold society's more noble hopes (especially against other women), the very principles and social ethics that their oppressors ignored? Or will they exercise a gender-exclusive prerogative, which was to change their minds? For the liberated, the challenge of being equal and to exemplify, advocate, and enforce what is supposed to be good in American society is troublesome when the philosophical battle cry is "hell hath no fury..."