“I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! I could work as much and eat as much as a man — when I could get it — and bear the lash as well! I have borne thirteen children, and seen most of ’em sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me!”
Strong words spoken by Sojourner Truth in May of 1851. She was responding to other speakers on the subject of women’s rights. An emancipated slave, Sojourner became a champion for women and the poor. Even President Lincoln was moved by her. During a meeting between the two of them, he wrote a note and signed his name in her little notebook stating “For Aunty Sojourner Truth, A. Lincoln, October 29, 1864.”
My Grandmother raised her four children and four of her sisters in a two room house she shared with her husband and her father. They did not have running water or an indoor bathroom, she did not drive or have any money of her own. She made their clothes, their toys, their meals, washed everything by hand, grew most of their food, milked the goat, tended the chickens…and she was just a woman.
In 1960, only 40 years after women won the right to vote, I was born. My mother raised me and my three siblings while she finished high school and then graduated from nursing school. I remember her studying anywhere she could, in the sun waiting for ball practice or ballet to finish, late at night after getting us off to bed, sometimes at the kitchen table while we all watched television. Just a woman.
By 1972 when I wanted to learn how to pump gas and work on cars at my Dad’s gas station I was told no. When I wanted to play Little League Baseball with my brothers I was told no. When I could run as fast and throw a football better than my brothers and their Junior All American team-mates I was given pom-poms instead. When I asked why I couldn’t play they said I might get hurt. Because I’m just a woman.
So I started gymnastics instead, where I jumped backward from my feet onto my hands then back to my feet landing on a four-inch wide piece of wood, four feet off the ground. Then I would swing myself around on parallel bars and fling into the air from the top bar twelve feet off the ground to complete a full flip with my body before landing on the mat below. Hmm. But I’m just a woman. Years later I gave birth to four children without any medication and became a working mom when things didn’t work out with their father. I’m still just a woman.
When I was the Executive Director for a well-known non-profit and was asked to complete a financial report I did so without hesitation. When several men on the Board of Directors asked me who prepared the report for me I told them, “No one, this is my own work.” When asked how I did it by myself I answered, “With a calculator, and a computer.” They were puzzled. Still just a woman.
When the new CEO of that same non-profit grabbed my wrist and said, “Don’t leave the room when I’m talking to you,” and I jerked my arm out of his grasp telling him, “Don’t ever touch me.” I was just a woman.
When I created a new program and wrote up a business strategy to save our company thousands of dollars but my male co-worker “forgot” to mention to the Board of Directors that it was my idea…I was just a woman.
When my second husband left me because of wrongs he committed, and I was approached by two male neighbors who thought I needed help with my “out of control” daughters, I was just a woman. I was accused by my ex-husband of raising my daughters to be man haters because I told them they should not measure their value by whether or not they have a man by their side. Yet today all three have grown to be strong successful women who see a partner as a joy not a necessity. And still, just a woman.
Today, we are trying to protect equal pay for women, and cannot get a bill to pass or a law renewed, yet women earn more than 40% of the average family income. Harvard Business School did not allow women to enter until 1962, yet women make up 41% of the school’s 2015 graduating class. Still, according to the Washington Post article “At this rate American women won’t see equal pay until 2058,” we have a long way to go. Since 1959, the year before I was born, the rate of change between what men make and what women make has been quite different. That gap will not close for at least another 43 years.
At 55 years old I may not live to see that equalization, but I have faith that it will happen. I know that my children and my grandchildren will have a different view about the value of all people, but especially women. Sojourner Truth said of the Biblical Eve, “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back , and get it right side up again! And now that they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”
I believe that the imbalance that started with the story of forbidden fruit will right itself when equality in all aspects of life has been achieved. But what do I know, I’m just a woman.