Did you know the FBI kept a 300-page file on Nobel-prize winning novelist, Pearl S. Buck? Or that civil rights organizer Pauli Murray was openly transgender?
For Women’s History Month, Pearl S. Buck International, where I volunteer, is offering a virtual exhibit entitled “Dangerous Women.” You can view it here. When I took a look, I learned quite a few things I didn’t know. For example:
Franklin D. Roosevelt had a “Black Cabinet” and Mary McLeod Bethune was its unofficial leader, advising the President on issues of race.
The first political protest outside the White House was the Silent Sentinel, comprised of women who refused to speak while holding banners and posters advocating for women’s right to vote.
Helen Keller was the first blind and deaf person to achieve a Bachelor of Arts in the United States.
Civil rights activist Pauli Murray lived fearlessly, at a time when gender non-conforming and queer people like them were forced to hide essential aspects of their identity.
Why are these women called “dangerous?” Dangerous to whom? To what? If we look at their stories, we see that they were a danger to the status quo. Sometimes that’s a bad thing – when America’s status quo democracy is endangered by laws restricting equal rights. But sometimes danger is good – when the fight for equity threatens unfair conditions.
My own mother lived in line with the status quo…until she didn’t. She approved of the McCarthy hearings because they were “anti-Communist” and voted against the Equal Rights Amendment (because genderless bathrooms), but later in life, cheered the accomplishments of “career women” like her daughters.
My grandmother was a factory worker and housewife but when chastised for outspokenness in her eighties, said “I’m an old lady. I can say anything I want.”
And Mrs. Brown, my dear civics teacher (we had whole classes devoted to civics in junior high!), cried angry tears when the principal would not approve her taking our class to a JFK presidential rally, even though she vowed she’d do the same if Nixon came to town.
So many women inspire me to do more, but life is hard enough. Do we still have to step out of our comfort zone and advocate for others? No, we don’t. But think of what it feels like when you do.
Where in your life have you seen dangerous women? Have you ever been one? Would you like to be?
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