Trailblazing Women and Radioactive Bikes: Happy IWD!

I have three bicycles hanging in my home. Their names are: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (my road bike), Daisy Bates (my mountain bike), and Marie Curie (my single speed commuter). Today is International Women’s Day (IWD) and I am here to celebrate the women who came before me who have been the very definition of trailblazers, the women who walk alongside me in my quest for equality, and the young women and girls watching, waiting, getting ready to lead with unrelenting passion.  

What is International Women’s Day? What does it mean and how do we celebrate and honor it? defines it as being bold for change. IWD is a:

“Call on the masses or call on yourself to help forge a better working world - a more inclusive, gender equal world.” - IWD

IWD is a vehicle for change with the intention of aiding girls and women to realize and attain their greatest aspirations. It is a reminder to dispute bias whether implicit or explicit. It is a call for leadership from the youngest girl to the oldest woman. IWD can be the spark, the catalyst for birthing a revolution towards gender equality.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Daisy Bates, and Marie Curie are the women in my life who have inspired me to stand firm and tall, to speak out against the atrocities in our world, and now to prepare to run for office. These women influenced my decisions when I ran my own business back in Vermont, when I decided to take a pilgrimage across the United States, when I went back to school at 31 years old to author an honors thesis amongst 18-21 year olds, and when I finally believed that I am capable of representing my community in the political ring.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, I would like to tell you about the remarkable accomplishments these three women made (and are still making) and how we can use their tireless effort to propel us forward.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Ruth Bader Ginsburg was raised in Brooklyn in a working-class neighborhood to a low-income family. Her mother emphasized independence and education as key values to live by. Ginsburg took her mom’s words to heart and received her bachelor’s from Cornell University in 1954. She was FIRST in her class.

In 1956 Ginsburg went to Harvard Law while simultaneously raising an infant. At Harvard she was only 1 of 8 women out of over 500 male students. The environment was unwelcoming to say the least. But in the face of a vitriolic dean she excelled and became the first female member of the Harvard Law Review.

“People ask me sometimes… ‘When will there be enough women on the court?’ And my answer is: When there are nine.”’ - RBG

Ginsburg transferred to Cornell in 1959 for her last year of law school and triumphantly graduated first in her class, AGAIN. However, despite her truly exceptional academic career, she continued to be met with closed doors simply because she was a woman.

In 1972, she became Cornell’s first female tenured professor. At the same time she was the director for the Women’s Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). Ginsburg was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals in 1980 by President Carter and was appointed in 1993 to the Supreme Court by President Clinton.

"I – try to teach through my opinions, through my speeches, how wrong it is to judge people on the basis of what they look like, color of their skin, whether they’re men or women." -RBG

She received significant awareness in the Bush v. Gore case where she concluded with the famous words: “I dissent” (instead of “I dissent respectfully”). The point being, dissenters justify their grounds with the intent that future courts and judges will agree and the dissenting opinion will be appointed as the law.

One of Ginsburg’s greatest accomplishments thus far was in 2015 in the Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same sex marriage across the U.S.

Daisy Bates

Daisy Bates was an African American civil rights activist and co-publisher of her own newspaper (the Arkansas State Press) in the mid 1900’s. She and her husband (L.C. Bates) documented the violent battle of ending segregation in Arkansas.

In 1954 the US Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education ruled that all segregated schools were illegal. However, in Bates’ home town of Little Rock, Arkansas the schools refused to accept African American students. Bates used her newspaper to highlight this injustice and force the local, state, AND federal government to intervene.

Bates was the President of the NAACP Arkansas branch and used her position as a public leader to guide what would be national known as the “Little Rock Nine”. The Little Rock Nine was a group of nine African American students that Bates helped enroll at Little Rock Central High School in the face of mobs, violence, and hatred.

One of Bates’ greatest inspirations and supporters was her adoptive father, Orlee Smith. Before Smith passed he gave her some lasting advice:

"You're filled with hatred. Hate can destroy you, Daisy. Don't hate white people just because they're white. If you hate, make it count for something. Hate the humiliations we are living under in the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the South. Hate the discrimination that eats away at the soul of every black man and woman. Hate the insults hurled at us by white scum—and then try to do something about it, or your hate won't spell a thing." - OS

Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who later became a naturalized-French citizen. She was the pioneering scientist on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, and the first person, and only woman, to win it two times. She is also the only human to have won the Nobel prize in two different sciences. And if this wasn’t enough, she was also the first female professor at the University of Paris.

Despite being an academic badass in secondary school, she was denied access to the University of Warsaw solely because she was a woman. So instead, she adapted to be even more of a badass and continued her education at an informal, underground secret set of classes.

“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” - MC

Curie’s road through education wasn’t easy. She suffered through poverty, xenophobia and criticism for being an atheist in France. She often survived solely off bread and tea in order to make rent. She went to Sorbonne in Paris where she changed her name from Maria to Marie in order to assimilate more into French culture and although her health suffered greatly from her living conditions, she still graduated first in her class.

During World War I, Curie developed what came to be called petites Curies (or “Little Curies”). These were mobile radiography machines designed to assist surgeons on the battlefield. Estimates show that her x-ray units treated over a million soldiers and later on she trained other women to use them as well.

“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” - MC

Curie donated the profits of every award and scholarship she received to the community to further scientific discoveries. She gave tirelessly to the French field of science even though she was met with constant resistance and received little to no recognition.   

I have two little girls in my life, soon to be young women. Just as I owe much of my relentless drive and my passion for justice to the women before me, I also owe the characteristics that define me to my sweet little loves CD and LD. Although they are “only” 10 and 12 years old, they are a source of constant motivation for me. Whether it is discussions about politics and women’s rights over NPR on the drive home from swim practice, chats in confidence about what it means to be a “woman”, or laughter over Snapchat filters, these two girls empower me.

They inspire me to fight for what is right because I want them to grow up in a world that is better than the one I grew up in. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Daisy Bates, and Marie Curie fought for me to have a voice in the courtroom and a right to attend any school I want. And so too will I fight for the these young girls to never be ashamed of what it means to be a woman, to dismantle patriarchy, and to raise up the voices of those who have not been heard.

Daisy Bates’ adoptive father warned her about being fueled by hatred. So I ask, “What fuels you to be bold and to fight for change?” Are you fueled by anger, by love, by optimism, by hope for fairness? There is a real place for anger (read Audre Lorde The Uses of Anger) just as there is a place for passion and love. My fuel is my passion for social justice AND my anger towards our patriarchal society.

When I run for office it is because I am filled with fervor, fury, AND hope. I will run in honor of the women before me and I will run as a model for the young girls who will run behind me. Today is International Women’s Day. It is a day of celebration, a day of recognition, and most of all it is a catalyst for the women here today and for the women yet to come.