I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Freakonomics, today, which featured the Harvard University president, Drew Gilpin Faust (what an awesome name). She talked about how, soon after she was appointed, someone asked her how she felt to be Harvard’s woman president. She said, “I shot back, ‘I’m not Harvard’s woman president, I’m Harvard’s president.'”
That was powerful. She was right. She needed to be seen as the leader, without a qualifier. Her accomplishments were as fine as any, which is why the Harvard Corporation chose her. Not out of tokenism, simply based on merit.
And then, she said, she realized that it was indeed important to note she was a woman president because it sent out the message to young girls everywhere that they could be anything, including president of one of the world’s most esteemed universities.
Being a woman is not just a noun, it’s also an adjective. Woman soldier, woman lawyer, woman CEO, woman president.
In our world today, even in the 21st century, it is still a notable feat for a woman to be anything that goes outside of mother, wife and homemaker. There are so few of us in the great diversity of roles that society offers, even fewer in positions of power. It’s making a statement if you occupy one of these spaces that are a birthright to men but must be hard won by women.
I used to feel the same way as Ms. Faust. Why is my gender made into an issue? I have talents and abilities in the same way that my brother does. And yet, I have been recognized for my achievements with wonder sometimes.
I used to chafe against this wonder, scorning the underlying pathetic attitude that “even a woman can do this”. Now, I embrace it with fierce pride: it’s right that you’re awestruck to see me here, I fought both seen and unseen foes to rise to it. It is awe-inspiring.
This is still the world we live in. I guess, somewhere, that’s part of the reason I want to write. I want girls and women everywhere to know our voice matters, and I want boys and men everywhere to get comfortable hearing it. One day, it will no longer be a source of wonder that a woman writer penned her innermost thoughts to change the conversation. It will be simply that a writer penned her innermost thoughts and changed the conversation.