Every March, we collectively acknowledge the often-overlooked contributions women have made through celebrating Women’s History Month. Don’t get me wrong, I think designating a special time to reflect on the importance of women’s contributions across all fields is important. But I often think about how every day of the year, I have experiences and opportunities that would not have been possible without the sustained activism and efforts of amazing women. Today and everyday, I want to reflect on women whose accomplishments have inspired my career ambitions, whose work has given me the right to vote, whose voices have given me equal opportunities at school, whose activism dismantled antiquated ideals of womanhood, and whose sacrifices have made me the woman I am today.
As a Cornell student pursuing a career in law, an obvious inspiration and trailblazer is the iconic Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justice Ginsburg’s mark on the law, women’s rights, and, in her later years, pop culture, is immeasurable. Throughout her career, Ginsburg was a champion for gender equality—a fierce enforcer of the Constitution’s guaranteed equal protection under the law. While her fiery dissents as a Supreme Court Justice are more well-known, I am particularly inspired by her work as the founder and head counsel at the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project. In arguing several cases before the Supreme Court, Ginsburg targeted laws that appeared to be beneficial to women, but, in reality, reinforced the notion that women must be dependent on men. Examples of the legal strides she made for women that are often taken for granted today include the right to open a bank account and take out a mortgage without a man’s permission. She fundamentally changed the law for women and has inspired and empowered generations with her ambition, tenacity, and perseverance. Upon my acceptance to Cornell, I felt so much excitement knowing that I was a little closer to being like her.
Another iconic woman whose work and activism was integral in the fight for women’s equality is Betty Friedan. Author of The Feminine Mystique, Friedan is a key contributor to sparking the second wave of feminism in the 1960s. Friedan coined the term “feminine mystique” to describe the societal assumption that women should be content and fulfilled from their housework, marriage, and children alone. She rebutted the idea that if women were truly feminine, they should not have the desire to work outside the home, get an education, or have political opinions. Freidan upended the idea of womanhood by demonstrating that femininity does not mean dependence or subordination. Friedan normalized finding fulfillment both within one’s family life and importantly, outside of one’s family through career, education, and civic participation that reflected their own beliefs, not just their husbands’ beliefs. Friedan helped give women an identity beyond their roles as wives and mothers. Her work fundamentally changed the dominant perception of womanhood and inspired generations of women to pursue their personal goals and celebrate their achievements. Her activism has motivated me to follow my ambitions without feeling pressure to follow a certain path.
When I wanted to learn more about Title IX and its impact on college campuses, I discovered how the work of an extraordinary woman shaped the passage of the law. I was surprised that I had not heard of Congresswoman Patsy Mink before and wanted to emphasize her vital contributions to women's equality. Mink was the first woman of color ever elected to Congress, the first Asian American woman to practice law in Hawaii, and the first Asian American to run for president. Mink fought for gender and racial equality during her time in Congress as an author of Title IX and advocate for affordable childcare. In 1974, Mink passed the Women’s Educational Equity Act to promote gender equality in schools. I admire her tenacity in being the “first” in a world of politics dominated by white men. Her passion for fighting for equality under the law for all people has tangibly improved the lives of women everywhere.
While these historical women have contributed to immense progress in uplifting women and improving the opportunities for the next generation, I also think that Women’s History Month is a time to appreciate the women who have profoundly impacted our lives on a personal level. The most important and influential woman in my life is my mom. She has selflessly made sacrifices for her children while always reminding me from a young age that being a woman meant following the path I wanted for myself, not what others expected from me.
As Women’s History Month draws to a close, remember to celebrate the women in your life year-round. We all have a responsibility in upholding their legacies and making the world a better place for the women that come after us.