Saffiyah Khan

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Last Saturday in Birmingham England, the English Defence League (EDL) held a demonstration in response to the recent attacks in London and Stockholm over the past several weeks. The EDL is known to be pretty vocal hatemongers, so much so that the two co-founders of the group left the organization in 2013 because of worries over the “dangers of far-right extremism”. It was at this demonstration that Saffiyah Khan noticed that roughly two dozen members of the EDL had surrounded a woman wearing a hijab and that the situation was getting tense.

So this 25 year old bad-ass decides to singlehandedly step in and have some calm (albeit choice) words for the EDL. This picture proceeded to be taken and go viral. Just look at it, I love it so much. This dude’s face is going red and his veins are starting to throb, and my girl Saffiyah is cool and collected. Let’s all stop hoping that more Saffiyahs existed in the world to step in, and start making the choice to BE the ones to step in, unafraid and with smiles on our faces.

Aung San Suu Kyi

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The 8888 Uprising in Burma (8/8/1988) was spearheaded by students but participated by citizens of all walks of life. The response was a violent military coup that resulted in countless deaths (estimates get as high as 10,000). Out of this chaos and uncertainty, a badass rose from the ashes: Aung San Suu Kyi. Before the coup, Aung San Suu Kyi called for democracy, speaking at rallies that drew thousands and founded the National League for Democracy (NLD). Seen as an instigator and therefore dangerous to the status quo, she was given the option by the military junta to leave the country, or face arrest. She remained and was promptly put in house arrest until things settled down…..

Which didn’t last long. In 1990 the junta held a general election, and despite it’s influence and intimidation, the NLD won 80% of the parliament seats. The election results were swiftly denounced and nullified by the military and put the county right back into chaos. Back into house arrest Aung San Suu Kyi went, spending 15 of 21 years between 1988 and 2010). During this time, her popularity did not wane, and she became the face of democracy. Also during this time, she received many awards, most notably the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. Post-release, she rose up in government positions (in many cases becoming the first woman to hold each one). She currently serves as the 1st State Counsellor of Myanmar and Leader of the NLD.

 

 

Gertrude B. Elion

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“Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. Don’t let others discourage you or tell you that you can’t do it. In my day I was told women didn’t go into chemistry. I saw no reason why we couldn’t.” – Gertrude B. Elion

I’m going to start off by stating that Gertrude was the daughter of immigrants (her father from Lithuania and her mother from Poland), and wait while that sinks in because of current event context…..maybe just while longer………we good? Good.

Gertrude B. Elion is a Nobel prize winning Chemist and Pharmacologist. She graduated with honors from Hunter College in New York when she was 19, but was rejected from multiple graduate programs because she was a woman. Undeterred, she decided to get her foot into the door via accepting an unpaid lab assistant position. A couple of years later (1944), she was hired by Burroughs Wellcome pharmaceuticals and remained there for 39 years. During her time, she worked to develop a drug used in chemotherapy treatment for children with leukemia, drugs that aids anti-rejection of organs for transplant patients, and many others that helped combat malaria, AIDs, gout, bacterial infections, and viral infections. She received a Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1988, despite never receiving her PhD.

Matilda Joslyn Gage

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Woman is learning for herself that non self-sacrifice, but self-development, is her first duty in life; and this, not primarily for the sake of others but that she may become fully herself – Matilda Joslyn Gage

So a friend recently posted a link to a pretty cool quiz/infographic Which Badass Woman In History Are You? I saw that a lot of people were getting results of my past Woman “Crushin’ it” Wednesday submissions. I jumped in and lo and behold, my result was a badass that I had not yet highlighted: abolitionist, Native American Rights activist, and suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage.

Gage was one of the founders of the National Woman Suffrage Association and served as president from 1875 to 1876. In 1881 she, with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, wrote the multi-volume History of Woman Suffrage (added to my Goodreads list). Over time, Gage and Stanton found themselves at odds with Anthony, feeling that the suffrage movement was becoming more and more conservative in order to unite the many different groups. Critical of Christianity, Gage believed that the religion overly oppressed women and strengthened patriarchy systems.She eventually left the NWSA to be founder of the more liberal Woman’s National Liberal Union, where she felt better equipped to push back on a government she believed to be actively trying to create a Christian state and corrode the idea of separation of Church and State. She wrote Woman, Church, and State in 1893 (also added to my list) detailing her position.

Frances Perkins

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“I promise to use what brains I have to meet problems with intelligence and courage.” – Frances Perkins

Main architect behind the New Deal, Frances Perkins was the first woman appointed to the U.S. Cabinet, serving under Franklin D. Roosevelt as U.S. Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. When asked to serve, she outlined her policies to Roosevelt: a national 40-hr work week, unemployment compensation, worker’s compensation, a minimum wage, Social Security, universal health care, ending child labor, and federal employment services. His agreement to these priorities was a condition of her acceptance to serving in his cabinet. Witnessing her tenacity and expertise firsthand when he was governor of New York (and she the state’s Industrial Commissioner), he agreed. What followed: she got. shit. done. The Social Security Act of 1935, the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, she was able to accomplish EVERYTHING on her list minus one: universal health care (who knew health care could be so complicated?)

 

International Women’s Day – 2017

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Happy International Women’s Day! This very special day has its history going back as far as 1908 and is fundamentally rooted in equality of the genders. This year, the call is to “think globally and act locally” in proactively shaping a world that is inclusive, safe, and fair for women around the world.

The campaign this year is #BeBoldForChange, and all are encouraged to sign up to either: challenge bias and inequality, campaign against violence, forge women’s advancement, celebrate women’s achievement, or champion women’s education.

In the past, I quietly celebrated or supported International Women’s Day. Not because I was embarrassed to offer my support or anything, but because I was still trying to figure out the best way to be an ally and a steward. I thought that it important that the voices put up on pedestals or risen up be, you know, coming from a woman; and that as a man I’d be diluting the enthusiasm of this important day if I was too vocal in my support. After many conversations with trusted and close friends, all of whom are badass women that I greatly admire and who are “Crushin’ it” on the regular, those days are in the past. Today I shall proudly wear my International Women’s Day t-shirt, and enthusiastically/unapologetically celebrate women’s achievement, while understanding that there’s still so much more work to be done.

Some recent #WCW activity

Congresswomen wearing Suffrage White during President Trump’s Congress speech

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The Women of NASA Lego set to be released

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Accepted proposal submitted by science writer Maia Weinstock includes:

  • Margaret Hamilton: Computer scientist (and my first #WCW!)
  • Katherine Johnson: NASA mathematician recently featured in Hidden Figures
  • Sally Ride: the first U.S. woman in space
  • Nancy Grace Roman: NASA chief astronomer
  • Mae Jemison: first African-American woman in space

This statue of a young girl defiantly staring down the famous Wall Street bull

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“Today, we are calling on companies to take concrete steps to increase gender diversity on their boards, and have issued clear guidance to help them begin to take action,” State Street Global Advisors CEO Ron O’Hanley said in a statement.

 

 

Irena Sendler

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“I was taught by my father that when someone is drowning you don’t ask if they can swim, you just jump in and help.” – Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was a member of the underground Polish organization Żegota (The Polish Council to Aid Jews) during World War II and head of its children’s section. She saved approximately 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto…… yeah, 2,500. As a worker in the municipal Social Warfare Department, Irena was able to gain access to the ghetto in order to proactively monitor any signs of typhus, which the Germans feared had the potential to spread outside if not quickly controlled. Irena was able to smuggle out the children by hiding them in her toolbox, ambulance, suitcase, and any other hiding spot she could think of (in a few cases even training her dog to bark when Nazis were around). When arousing German suspicions, she was arrested and severely beaten by the Gestapo. Despite having her feet and legs broken, Irena refused to give up the names of her accomplices and even managed to hide the names of the children she had saved (kept in the hope of one day reunifying families). She was sentenced to death by firing squad, but was able to avoid execution via the Żegota bribing the guards and putting her into hiding.

Very few outside of Poland knew of the incredible Irena Sendler until a group of high school students in Kansas (all girls) stumbled upon the story as part of their National History Day project in 1999. Seeing an article with the “over 2,000 saved” line, they originally thought it a typo, and aggressively searched for other collaborating sources. The project grew in scope, and the students eventually put on a play Life in a Jar, which told the story of Irene Sendler. It was a massive hit. The awards and recognition that Irena received afterward, both while living and posthumously, are countless.

Maggie Kuhn

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“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn

I’ve come across this quote frequently these past couple of months, most recently from one of the social media pages of Cory Booker. I’ve always loved these words and decided to do a deeper dive into the person behind the quote and quickly found that Maggie Kuhn would make an excellent #WCW

Maggie is best known as the founder of the activist organization the Gray Panthers when she was legally mandated to retire at the age of 65. Maggie fought against Ageism on all fronts: the pushing out of capable people from the work force, “disengagement theory”(the idea that it was natural, and therefore encouraged, for the elderly to essentially “check out” of society while they waited to die), how hard it was for the older generation to get loans, etc.

Maggie and the Gray Panthers did not limit themselves to issues that directly related to the elderly. She strongly believed in the idea of Intersectionality in regards to activism YEARS before the term was coined. I’m going to cheat a bit and pull straight from Wikipedia: “(Intersectionality) is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Intersectionality is the idea that multiple identities intersect to create a whole that is different from the component identities. These identities that can intersect include gender, race, social class, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, religion, age, mental disability, physical disability, mental illness, and physical illness as well as other forms of identity”. Maggie and the Gray Panthers took it a step further and became advocates for causes that were outside even their own identities, believing that discrimination on ANY front affects the population as a whole, even if it’s hard to see the direct correlation.

The Gray Panthers actively fought (and continue to fight) for LBGT rights, desegregation, anti-war efforts, urban housing issues, environmentalism, and health care. Maggie actively welcomed high school and college students into the Gray Panthers, believing that voices on both ends of the age scale were undervalued and stifled. She also advocated for shared housing, where old and young would live in mutually-beneficial companionship together. This idea is alive and well in the Netherlands as well as my wonderful Cleveland, OH (article is a little dated, I hope CIM is still rocking the idea)

 

International Day of Women and Girls in Science

“On this International Day, I urge commitment to end bias, greater investments in science, technology, engineering and math education for all women and girls as well as opportunities for their careers and longer-term professional advancement so that all can benefit from their ground-breaking future contributions.” — UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

This past Saturday was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. What better way to celebrate than to highlight some amazing women in the STEM fields. I am honored to count many women in the sciences as some of my closest friends and favorite people, and seeing as how it was a podcast about women in the STEM fields that got me into these #WCW posts in the first place, it’s only fitting to have a special edition. Enjoy!

Dr. Mildred Dresselhaus

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“Millie” Dresselhaus was the first woman to win the US National Medal of Science in Engineering. She was also the first female Institute Professor and professor emerita of physics and electrical engineering at MIT. The “queen of carbon science”, Millie was best known for her work on the electronic properties of materials (notably: graphite and carbon nanotubes), and for her constant work in expanding opportunities for women in STEM fields.

Dr. Nelly Mugo

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Nelly Mugo is  an obstetrician, gynecologist and a principal research scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Nairobi who is making fantastic strides in the effort to eradicate HIV. Dr. Mugo was instrumental in the development of PrEP, a once a day tablet that has initially shown to prevent the spread of HIV by up to 92% in high-risk population.

Dr. Rosalind Franklin

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Using her expertise in X-ray diffraction techniques, Rosalind Franklin was instrumental in the discovery of the DNA’s double-helix structure. If you want to learn and be frustrated by the politics of Science, look no further than the history of DNA discovery. Scientists from Cambridge were able to get access to Franklin’s data without her consent (with the help of a rival/colleague at King’s College), and were able to use the information to further their own studies. They were eventually awarded the Nobel Prize, and the critical involvement of Rosalind’s research to the field were not uncovered until years after her death.

Dr. Grace Murray Hopper

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Grace Murray Hopper was essentially a genius mathematician and computer scientist and the reason you’re reading this from a computer screen right now. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grace had to get an exemption in order to enlist in the Navy because of her diminutive size. She served on the Mark I, Mark II, and Mark III computer programming staffs. She later invented the first compiler for computer language, which in turn led to the first high-leveling programming language COBOL. Hopper retired as a rear admiral when she was 79 years old. She was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces. Her awards and accolades are seriously incredibly, and she took pride in being able to break down extremely complex ideas and theories in a way that other people would be able to understand. Fun fact: Yale has recently announced that it will be changing the name of Calhoun College, named after popular white supremacist, to honor “Amazing Grace” Hopper instead, supreme baddass.

Bessie Coleman

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During our weekly trivia night at a local bar, a question came up under a Historic Women category and I did not know the answer. I was disappointed that I hadn’t already known Bessie Coleman’s great story, but it also made me reflect on why my #WCW is so important to me. Please keep forwarding amazing stories! I love that the length of my list is outpacing what a weekly submission can keep up with.

In 1921, Bessie Coleman was the first African American and Native American woman to earn a pilot’s license. As you could probably guess, there were no schools for aviation in the US that allowed women or people of color in the early 1900s but Bessie, being the badass that she was, thought to herself “F it, I’ll just straight up learn French and then get my license overseas” AND THAT’S TOTALLY WHAT SHE DID!
After obtaining her license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, Bessie briefly came back to the US before realizing that in order to make a living following her dream (commercial pilots weren’t a thing yet), she would have to get advanced training in order to be a stunt pilot. Being a bona fide trailblazer is tricky enough, even harder when one is a woman and even harder still for a woman of color in a time when segregation was alive and well. Back to Europe she went, completing advanced courses and training with leaders of the aviation industry. “Queen Bess” returned to the US and performed daring displays, hoping to one day earn enough to open her own aviation school. In 1926, Bessie and her mechanic went up for a test flight when the plane malfunctioned, tragically killing them both.