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"You Can be Anything You Want to Be" - 08/11/2020

When I was growing up, little girls didn't have a lot of women in the public eye to look up to. I started school in 1964, pre-feminism. My heroes were the women whose biographies I read from the library: Helen Keller, Susan B. Anthony and others from our country's past. But my father wanted me to grow up dreaming big about the future. When he and I would talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up, he's always smile and say, "Jennie, you can be anything you want to be. Being a woman should never hold you back." Because my rocket-scientist father was also my hero, I believed him.

But reality has a way of intruding on dreams. When I was about 11, 1968 or 69, and we were at the Redstone Arsenal's annual family picnic, Daddy made a point of introducing me to the only woman in his work group who was not a secretary. He beamed at me as he presented this woman as a "lady engineer!" "You could do that too!" he enthused to me. I protested: "But Dad, I want to be an astronaut!" He looked shocked, then embarrassed. "Well, honey, you can't do that." "Why not?" "Because women can't be astronauts." "But why? I thought you said I could be anything I wanted to be!" "You can! Just not that." I actually started to cry, and he hustled me away from the woman engineer. It was my first significant bump against the glass ceiling, and unfortunately, it would be far from my last.

Over the course of my 21-year career in the telecommunications industry, I have gone from being the only woman in the sales group, to being the only female general manager for the consulting company I worked for by the time I retired in 2000 at age 42. I have been paid less than the men who were my peers in the same job, and been told I could never be a director-level employee because I was "too pretty," "too short," or "too sexy." Yes, all these came from white men who were my bosses. Through it all, my Dad would encourage me, reminding me that women really didn't need to feel limited any more (by then, we even had female astronauts). He had a cousin who was a VP at AT&T, pre-breakup, and he was fond of saying, "You're going to be a VP of AT&T!" I'd laugh, and say, "Why not President?" Although sometimes it did create unrealistic expectations, my Dad's support was mostly a constant positive in the face of a long, tough slog through corporate America. I'm sure it was a factor in my determination to succeed in the still male-dominated high tech industry.

The environment for little girls aspiring to succeed in the US today is vastly different from the one I grew up in. Nowadays, most little girls need look no further than their own mothers to see role models in many different professions. Women earn the majority of college degrees in America at present. In addition to the female teachers, nurses, and secretaries that I encountered when I was growing up, women now are doctors, dentists, lawyers and politicians. Far more women hold political office in our country now than ever before.

Which brings me to today's announcement: Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for President in the 2020 election, has chosen Kamala Harris, an Asian-Black American female lawyer, to be his running mate as VP. This choice makes the 11-year-old girl in me very happy. The grown woman feels pretty good about it too. Because whether or not Biden-Harris is the winning ticket, having a woman as the VP nominee means that women pretty much can be whatever they want to be. Even, one day, and perhaps not too far into the future, President. Because, why not? For women today, the sky is the limit.

#Feminism #WomenAstronauts #WomenInTechnology #WomenInPolitics #KamalaHarris #GlassCeilingBreaker #ShootForTheStars

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