Thanking the Women Who Came Before Us

By Shyama Parui

Bertha Benz, Mary Anderson, Alice Huyler Ramsey, Florence Lawrence, and Dr. June McCarroll. Do their names ring a bell? Last month, I stumbled upon an article in AAA's “GO" magazine about them and much to my embarrassment, their names did not even elicit a faint chime. If it wasn't for the contributions of these incredible women, the automotive world would be without brake pads, windshield wipers, and the brake signaling system. In fact, Dr. McCarroll was the first woman to introduce centerlines in the middle of the road which she personally hand painted for a stretch because back in 1924, her town's board did not think it was an idea worth implementing. Can you even imagine roads without center or lane lines? However unfortunate, one can easily imagine a smart woman's practical and lifesaving idea being shot down by a group of male leaders because it happens way too often.

History bears witness to the fact that every generation will benefit from the toil and tears of the previous generation just as they will pay a price for the mistakes. I often wonder what my life would be like if my mother had not supported my education, what if she herself had never been to school or if my grandmother had not survived childbirth. I am grateful that none of those things occurred as the consequences would, more than likely, have unfavorably affected three generations. I doubt that I would have had the ability or resources to share my views with the world through Namaskar Y'all. Every mother in my family as in many others, has protected and cared for the wellbeing of the people under her wing with grace and tenacity. In the absence of their sacrifices, my journey would have been strewn with hurdles.

Let us humbly accept that unless you are a self- manufacturing machine, you cannot claim to be entirely self-made. The success and prosperity of both men and women are intertwined and it often falls on the women of the family or the larger social group to think about the physical and emotional care of its people. It is no coincidence that Hindu Goddesses that represent education, prosperity and protection are female forms of divinity. Yet, we seem to be moving at a snail's pace when it comes to giving women credit where it is due. It is hard to pinpoint the root cause of this global problem, but I would conjecture that it is a combination of multiple factors like patriarchal structure, sexual politics, and misogyny.

Faith, historical evidence, data from sociological studies, and plain old common sense provides multiple reasons to support equal rights for women, yet, it is a struggle for women to claim what men see as rightfully theirs. Having the basic rights to live, to feel safe, to be treated as a human being, have been a challenge in some circumstances. To make matters worse, the court of public opinion is cruelly biased against women from every strata of society. Despite these challenges, women across different cultures are breaking barriers every day to move closer to gender equity. Slowly but surely, we have made remarkable progress.

Democratic elections in Ancient Greece did not permit women to vote but protests by Women Suffragists prompted countries with modern democracies in Europe and in the United States to grant women the right to vote. Seeing Vice President Kamala Harris in office solidifies the belief that the marches and picketing of the 1900's has borne fruit. Queen Ka'ahumano's strong influence steered Hawaiians away from their ancient Kapu (code of conduct) as its rigid rules barred women from many privileges that were given to men.

Things that we take for granted like eating meals with male members of their family and consuming bananas and coconut, were forbidden. Admittedly, my knowledge of Hawaiian practices is limited but it just seemed so unfair that the women who lived in a tropical paradise would be deprived of its most popular fruits.

My hope is that we will continue to highlight the effort, successes, and accomplishments of women in all fields because every win matters.

I propose an examination of the content being introduced to students. Why haven't we learned more about the Indian female freedom fighters? I am curious about how they broke tradition or perhaps wrapped up their household responsibilities before stepping out incognito to attend underground meetings.

It would be worthwhile to learn the details of contributions by women such as Begum Hazrat Mahal, Dr. Annie Besant, Captain Laxmi Sehgal, and Kamaladevi Chatopadhyay rather than a one-line reference mentioned in our old history textbooks.

Highlighting the work of Ada Lovelace as the world's first computer programmer, could inspire young mathematicians to the same degree that her father, Lord Byron's poetry inspired writers.

If publishers, book sellers, and libraries dedicated more shelf space for books that shared the stories of pioneering women, it would be a step in the right direction. The world of cinema could arguably redeem itself by a small margin if they replaced content that objectifies women with portrayals of successful female protagonists.

Notable examples include Hidden Figures and Gunjan Saxena, The Kargil Girl. As women we should vow to honor and respect the opportunities we receive and pledge to support gender equity so that it becomes a way of life by the time our children grow up.

This article is dedicated to women who may have been forgotten, overlooked, or perhaps have not received adequate credit for their innovations and groundbreaking work. My sincere gratitude to all the trailblazing women, who have paved the way for us and our future generations.

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Shyama Parui is a long time North Carolina resident and an ardent writer. You can reach her at: shyamashree_parui@hotmail.com