As International Women’s History Month 2022 came to a close, I had a challenging time coming up with a way to close out the celebrations, having seen many inspiring stories this month usually brings. Then it struck me as a Gen Zer - my generation is known for its voracious search for truth, after all - that there’s been less spotlight on the significance of including the word “history” in this observance.
Of course, there have been many celebrated stories of women across generations, and those that I’ve included in this blog post aren’t obscure. What I do know is that how truly difficult these stories of triumph must have been to achieve may have escaped our generation’s notice. Even as much progress has been made today to advance women’s position in our society, there’s still a lot of work to be done. On reflection, as an American Gen Zer woman of color, I realized how insurmountably difficult it must have seemed for women in earlier generations, or other societies and cultures, to #breakthebias and break new ground.
I’ve been lucky to have a recent burst of inspiration from witnessing having our first African American female Supreme Court Justice nominee, Ketanji Brown Jackson. I wasn’t surprised to learn she faced discrimination in her early life, but I was shocked to learn that some of it came from her educators. While attending Miami Palmetto Senior High School, Jackson’s high school guidance counselor warned that her goal to study at Harvard and its accompanying big ambitions were “a bit of a reach.” Since Ketanji was at the top of her high school class, her counselor's reaction was clearly based on prejudice. Thankfully, this did not stop Ketanji from applying successfully to Harvard's undergrad program, and eventually to its law school. Not only did she get accepted at one of the most difficult schools in the world to get into, but she also graduated magna cum laude from the very school she was discouraged from attending. Ketanji Brown Jackson’s story is one of many women of color who have overcome gender and race bias to achieve great things. As an African American woman, seeing Jackson become a nominee for the Supreme Court has given me so much hope for myself and many others who look like me.
Looking elsewhere, another woman of color who has overcome outsized challenges is Malala Yousafzai, but for a different reason other than the color of her skin. Malala was born and raised in Pakistan and is known for publicly speaking out against the Taliban. Her work centers around the strict prohibition of girls' education imposed by the Taliban, which made it illegal for women to gain an education. As somebody who has received an education in America from early childhood and has been raised simply knowing that I was going to get an education, I was shocked to learn that some were not able to receive the same rights I have been afforded because of their gender. The story is now familiar to many: Malala was rather vocal about her activism and this angered powerful men (and perhaps women, too), most of whom did not agree with her. At the young age of 15, Malala barely survived an assassination attempt wherein she was actually shot in the head by a former spokesperson for the Taliban on her way home from school. It is mind-blowing to think that a little girl was shot because she wanted herself and others like her to go to school. Luckily, Malala was able to miraculously recover from this attempt on her life and demonstrate her resilience and courage to the world. What inspires me most is that she did not allow this incident to deter her from fighting for her cause and her people. She continued her activism and ended up with widespread recognition across the globe for her work and has even become the youngest Nobel laureate, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. Perhaps the biggest reward of all: the UN called for a special envoy for global education, which then led to the ratification of Pakistan's first right to education bill and allowed women in their country to receive a fair education. Malala’s story is incredibly inspiring and proved to the world that change is possible with action and determination, despite great odds.
Lastly, I want to share more about Patsy Matsu, who is of Japanese descent and grew up in Hawaii. Patsy is known as the first woman of color to be elected into the House of Representatives and was the first Asian-American woman to serve in the US Congress. I am honestly shocked that I haven't learned about her sooner: her accomplishments speak volumes. She graduated high school as the class valedictorian in 1944 and went on to attend Wilson College located in Pennsylvania. Due to racial discrimination, Patsy transferred to the University of Nebraska, where unfortunately the discrimination continued. She felt her best option was to return to Hawaii to finish her education and so she did. After completing her education, Patsy Matsu went on to accomplish amazing things despite the racism she faced in her early career.
Forging forward despite naysayers from all sides - is what I find most inspiring. For these women, #boldmoves weren’t just a label, it was a way of life. And because of what they did at times and places when and where such things were essentially impossible, they started a revolution towards breaking the bias. They set the stage for women to thrive in today’s society and encourage you and me to take some time to remember them as well as many women today who have inspired and continue to inspire us. It’s not just Women's Month, it's Women’s History Month. Looking at the past to acknowledge the women who came before us to enable future generations of equal rights is just as important as continuing to pave that way today. Today, after all, is and will be part of tomorrow’s history. Many of these women gave their all towards being the first so that they would not be the last.
May they continue to be our inspiration so we can continue to build the roads they have started towards equality. And one day, not too far from now, perhaps we will celebrate Women's Her-story Month.
The author is the youngest member of Team Puremaven and is a proud advocate for women. She is an active volunteer at a non-profit organization that serves underprivileged women and works with young children, particularly those with special needs, during her personal time.