Last weekend (Feb. 24), much was made of Danica Patrick becoming the first woman to start the Daytona 500 from the pole position. Jimmie Johnson took the checkered flag in first place; and if Danica hadn’t been a woman, few among us would have noticed she even finished.
I met many voters in 2008 who voted for Hillary Clinton because she was a woman. Some even admitted that had she been a man with the same track record, they’d have looked elsewhere.
Even John McCain, once a serious contender for President of the United States, found for a running mate a woman whose obvious pulchritude turned out to be a major attraction to many main stream pundits, but insufficient to override the factors that gave the election to Barack Obama …
… who became our first African-American president. The color of his skin was, or should have been, the least legitimate reason for casting a mark his way, but it was sufficient reason for many voters.
In 1997, Tiger Woods swung his way to becoming the first African-American golfer to win the Masters Tournament. I suspect his winning had more to do with hard work and practice than with skin color. Actually, Woods is, through his ancestors, African-American (his father was Black), Asian-American (his mother was Thai) and possibly Native American.
A week ago, someone embarking on a trip halfway around the planet to learn about farming a certain commodity crop, said she saw the trip as “a group of motivated, empowering women who are … looking to create a global conversation for sustainable farming and fair/direct trade practices.” On the one hand, I am glad they – all are, indeed, women – are doing something at least as important to international relations as any U.S. Secretary of State. On the other hand, the context of her response to a question about possible inclusion of men made it clear men were specifically not invited. The trip is a woman thing.
Unfortunately, there is reason for her sentiment. In March 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, John, as he and the rest of the all-man Continental Congress worked to draft the framework document for the birthing nation. She begged him “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”
The men ignored Mrs. Adams’ wishes. Women eventually won permission to exercise their right to a say in their government’s operation, but 237 years after John Adams’ wife asked him for an equal partnership in family and country, the rebellion continues. A story in a North Carolina college campus newspaper this week reports that a young woman faces expulsion from campus because she dared talk about having been raped.
It is beyond time we stopped with the First Woman, First African, First Asian, etc. prefix to human accomplishment. I’m happy for people of all ancestral origins who have waited far too long to be allowed to prove their worth. We should, I submit, be paying more attention to the fruits of human effort, and less to factors which had nothing to do with them – such as gender, or ancestry, or other accidents of birth over which we have no control. Such verbal qualifiers serve primarily to accentuate our differences and shortcomings – many erroneously perceived – when what is required for our continued residence on the planet is more enunciation on our commonalities.