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Women’s History: A Great Work in Progress

Women’s history month is an opportunity to celebrate. The vital role women have played in shaping our society is epic, indeed. This year is especially important since it is the Centennial year of women’s right to vote. In recognition of the anniversary of the 19th Amendment, it’s an important time to celebrate the original suffragette movement as well as 20th and 21st century women who continue to fight for equal rights. From Susan B. Anthony and Rosa Parks to Eleanor Roosevelt and Gloria Steinem, womens’ accomplishments have provided the foundation for our social fabric and major progress.

In Politics, Aristotle depicted women as subject to men and lacking authority; he believed the husband should exert political rule over the wife. During the Middle Ages, affluent women were required to have some literacy but their learning was only to prepare them for being respectable wives and mothers. But a woman’s “place” wasn’t only about men keeping them suppressed; the childbearing roll and the need to care for children, to educate and nurture them was a full-time job.

The advent of the industrial and medical revolutions ushered in a new story. The industrial revolution gradually eliminated the need for brute strength; and the need for men to work in fields, factories, and in war began to diminish because there were machines to do all the heavy lifting. As the industrial revolution gave way to the modern information revolution, womens’ equality became evermore apparent because what mattered most and continues to matter most, brain power.

The 20th century exploded with the brain power of women like Candace Pert, the head of molecular biology at the National Institutes of Health, who discovered that neuropeptides, or molecules of emotion, constitute the link between the mind and the body, Jacqueline K. Barton, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, discovered that DNA conducts electric current but not as well—or not at all—when its tight organization is disrupted by damage from certain chemicals, Elizabeth Blackburn, a professor at the University of California at San Francisco, discovered telomerase, the enzyme that maintains telomeres, DNA–protein structures that play a vital role in preserving the information in our genes.

Additionally, during the 20th century came Roe vs. Wade. Perhaps there was nothing more pivotal, more critical to liberating the role of women then drawing the Roe vs. Wade line in the sand that gave women the right to privacy and the right to control their own bodies. This landmark historical event eliminated the imperative to see women as child bearers only; as they effectively decoupled sex and reproduction.

We have a way to go, but we’ve come a long way. It was not all that long ago in the early 19th century that writings revealed a major tenant of evolutionary theory: the belief that women were intellectually and physically inferior to men. The times have ushered in a monumental shift in these perceptions but challenges remain. The casualties of the #MeToo movement attest to that.

Presently, we see more women in Congress, more and more women in managerial positions more women as leaders of countries. Women live longer. Women have overtaken men as the majority in the US workforce. Women held more U.S. jobs than men in December 2019 for the first time in history; a development that likely reflects the future of the American workforce.

We have an opportunity now to continue the great trajectory of progress to help future generations of girls grow up with the belief that they are equal, with the understanding that there is nothing they cannot do, nothing they cannot accomplish, if they so desire. We at Girls Inc. of New York City are doing our part through encouraging girls to go on to college. Our programs are designed to equip girls with education and skills that prepare them for leadership, prepare them to contribute to their own growth and development, as well as that of their families and societies.

Political participation for girls and women is key to future progress; our broad representation is still lacking. Our mantra for this election year and the future for girls is: get involved. We encourage running for student government or joining the leadership of a local board or community organization. Figure out what issues you want to tackle and what position will let you do that and then run for it!

You can start small, but dream big. That goes for all of us.


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