Our culture constantly spotlights the loud and outrageous. Our media focus on the extraordinary and the sensational. The next shiny thing distracts us from what’s meaningful, and impactful in our day-to-day lives. But, it’s more often the quiet strength, resilience, and effort of regular people that powers and propels the real world. Progress and positive change are often driven by women who may not receive widespread attention, but who undeniably deserve recognition for their contributions. So many silent architects of our communities are unsung heroines who, with grace and determination, make our world a better place. Even the work and accomplishments of well-known women go unrecognized or remain undervalued.
Former First Lady Eleanor Rosalynn Carter recently passed away. She was 96. Alongside her 77-year marriage to Jimmy Carter, the 39th US President, she was a writer, activist, and humanitarian who dedicated decades to public service. From her mental health advocacy to supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, she worked behind the scenes to shape public policy from within. Her list of accolades and accomplishments is long and largely uncelebrated. She was a powerful, impactful, and influential woman, described as the most activist first lady since Eleanor Roosevelt. But, because she wasn’t flashy or boisterous, we tend to overlook her many contributions.
On the third Monday in January, we recognize MLK Day, honoring the civil rights leader and activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But, his wife, Coretta Scott King was not only the mother of his four children and his partner in protests. During her lifetime, Mrs. King also met with heads of state, including prime ministers and presidents. She traveled extensively, “speaking out on behalf of racial and economic justice, women’s and children’s rights, gay and lesbian dignity, religious freedom, gun control, the needs of the poor and homeless, full employment, health care, educational opportunities, nuclear disarmament, and environmental justice.” –The King Center
Of course, many other women of color were activists in the 1960s. They include Fannie Lou Hamer, Mamie Clark, Septima Clark, Mamie Till, Ella Baker, and Johnnie Carr, to name a few. Strong, talented, influential women who understood the levers of power and worked for progress that would outlive their generation.
Throughout the last century and now, in the first quarter of this one, women have been making Trouble for Good, shifting norms at home and work, influencing attitudes and expectations, and driving change in law and culture. Women in education, government, technology, manufacturing, sports, exploration, science, AI.
Women have been and continue to be change agents pretty much everywhere, all the time. Closer to home and on a lesser-known level, there are women in all our communities doing important things to advance justice and chip away at some of the toxicity in our society.
In one New England state, there is an annual recognition of women making a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens. The Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women is an independent agency that was created by the state legislature in 1998. Its goal is to “advance women of the Commonwealth to full equality in all areas of life and to promote their rights and opportunities.” Each year they ask legislators to submit nominees from their districts, recognizing “unheralded acts that make our homes, neighborhoods, cities, and towns better places to live.”
The work of over 125 honorees in 2023 included fighting food insecurity, advocating for affordable housing, supporting families in crisis, helping seniors, teaching children, combating racial and social injustice, demanding clean water, preserving green space, and the list goes on.
Of the recognized “Heroines” the commission states, “They don’t always make the news, but they truly make a difference.” See all their profiles here: MCSW CH2023
The absence of recognition for female change-makers is local and national. It’s not just what’s deemed newsworthy on any given day but also what goes into the public record. Wikipedia gets 8000 hits a second but the vast majority of contributors to its content are (white) men. Consequently, less than 20% of biographies on Wikipedia are about women, and those articles are significantly shorter than articles about men. So, Emily Temple-Wood, Sandister Tei, Rosie Stephenson-Goodknight, and Jess Wade are working to rectify that gender/knowledge gap in the world’s most popular reference site. “They are journalists, doctors, librarians, academics, and scientists, obsessed with the project of making Wikipedia equitable, and in making it equitable, making it accurate.” –Glamour
So, take heart fellow TroubleMakers, we’re here, we’re effective, we’re unyielding and we’re awesome. We make stuff happen. We are gaining every day. We keep our eyes on the prize which is gender equity and justice for all. Together we keep on making Trouble – even if (especially when) we don’t think anyone’s watching!
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SPEAK UP – SPEAK OUT. THIS REALLY MATTERS.