Black History Month Spotlight: Mae Jemison

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As we come to a close on Black History Month, I would like to turn the spotlight on another influential Black female figure: Mae Jemison. Mae Jemison is widely acclaimed in the sciences industry as being the first Black Female astronaut. In 1992, she made significant strides as an astronaut by flying into space on the Endeavour spacecraft, officially establishing herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Born in October 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, Mae Jemison and her family moved to Chicago, Illinois where she grew up for the majority of her youth. There in Chicago, she was able to witness and experience first-hand the peak of the Black civil rights movement in the United States. As a young girl, she lived in fear by the frequent protests and the heavy presence of the National Guard on their streets. At a mere 12 years old, although scared, Mae Jemison knew the importance of the civil rights movement and its impact on herself as an African-American girl and the Black community as a whole. Living through such an experience growing up, Mae Jemison’s African-American identity became a crucial part in her academic and career pursuits.

She spent her life in the pursuit of science – specifically, astrology. Even as a kindergartner on her first day of school, she already declared herself a “scientist” when asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. Taken aback by her answer as a woman, much less a Black woman, people were skeptical and doubtful. These doubts and odds against her didn’t stop her in her pursuit.

She began her pursuit for higher education in the sciences in college, where she studied physical and social sciences. Jemison developed a passion for linguistics while in college and also learned how to speak Russian and African-Swahili fluently. She progressed in her academic career by earning another degree in chemical engineering and African studies. She always stuck true to her roots as an African-American and ensured that her African identity remained an integral part of who she was in every aspect – both as a student and as a professional in the sciences. Mae Jemison continued on to study medicine in medical school, where she earned her MD and also became a medical doctor.

In June of 1987, she was admitted into NASA’s astronaut program, being the first African-American woman to be admitted into the astronaut-training program. In 1992, Mae Jemison made even more significant strides as an African-American and as a female astronaut by initiating her first launch into space. On September 12, 1992, Mae Jemison set aboard the Endeavour spacecraft among 6 other astronauts on mission STS47. On this day, she officially established herself as the first African-American woman in space.

Mae Jemison spent 8 days in space conducting various projects and experiments in collaboration with the rest of the team of astronauts. She returned back to earth on September 20, 1992 and spent a total of 190 hours in space. Upon her return, Jemison remarked of the importance of both integrating males and females, as well as various minority groups, into societal activities. She emphasized that all kinds of people are able to be productive members of society and contribute to the development of the world, so long as the equal opportunity is afforded to them.

In recognition of her astonishing repertoire of accomplishments, Jemison received numerous awards and several honorary doctorates. Some include:

  • The 1988 Essence Science and Technlogy Award
  • The 1992 Ebony Black Achievement Award
  • The 1993 Montgomery Fellowship from Dartmouth College
  • The 1990 Gamma Sigma Gamma Woman of the Year Award

Mae Jemison was also fundamental in the progression and development of various organizations in the scientific community, including the American Medical Association, the American Chemical Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Mae Jemison is not only influential, she is a model of excellence for all people – especially women, African-Americans; particularly African-American women. Her significant work in the STEM fields proves her to be role model for young girls and young women, showing them that women not only can be a part of the STEM fields, but they can also excel in the STEM field. She has paved the way for women to make positive and remarkable contributions into an industry that is primarily dominated my males. As an African-American, she has proven to be a figure of strength and intelligence, proving to society that despite every odd set up against a marginalized population – despite the lack of equal opportunity – resilience, perseverance, and strength can uplift yourself and an entire community from an oppression. Moreover, it can influence society to adopt ideologies that are more inclusive, aware, and integrative, and foster a society that offers equal opportunity to all people, regardless of gender, race, sex, sexuality, etc.

Resources:

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

http://teacher.scholastic.com/space/mae_jemison/

http://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378

Mediations on Aging

depicts a young girl, a middle aged woman and an elderly woman

They streak through the brown waves. Little streams, trickles of silver. Unruly, they spring, wild, untamed. Refusing to be hidden, they revel in their freedom. My age proclaimed by their unrestrained rivulets.

I have celebrated the thirty-fifth anniversary of my birth. I see the streaks of silver, the laugh lines, the aging process reflected in my physical self. Nothing else seems to have changed. Oh, I may have gained more knowledge, more experience, but I my character is no different.

Until recently, I would have argued that I refused to buy into the defined limits and demarkations of aging as a woman. I notice these limits more frequently now and can see myself reflected in their definitions. Society tell us to be good little girls when we are younger, the teenage and early adults years are a confusing mix of the saintly virgin and the desirable whore. Many of us become mothers, ‘the hot mama,’ squatting and sweating our way through baby boot camps. The over arching theme being that we are told to age gracefully. We pluck, shave, and dye our way back to youth; to beauty.

I am tired of being told how to be a woman, how to be feminine, how to age. I am tired of us doing this to ourselves. There is nothing wrong with looking and feeling your best, but why must this ideal come out of a magazine or an ad and not from our own understanding of ourselves? Why must aging become yet another trend that must bend women to its will?

I refuse. The creases by my eyes tell a story. The many times I have laughed till I cried, the times I squinted in concentration learning a new concept, the times I attempted to read a map in my travels, the times I wept. I see my ancestors in the creases. The women who came before, who cried and laughed with me. The women who stroked the hair that would one day become streaked with silver.

I wear the silver in my hair like a badge of honour. The streaks glimmer and shine. Silver is a valuable commodity, is it not?

There is a trend to embrace our inner child. Let us not forget our inner crone. Let’s laugh with the abandonment of children at our streaks of silver, but let us celebrate the lives that created them. I may yet choose to change my appearance, but it will be because I choose, not because I am bullied into hiding my age.

Why is it always her fault?

Like the millions of other people world wide I have been following the Miley Cryus twerking media circus. I have watched the clips on youtube, read some of the commentary and spent a great deal of time wondering why it is only Miley up for discussion?  I mean, she wasn’t the only one on stage.  I can understand that perhaps her performance was inappropriate for a crowd of 14 year olds, but frankly, so many other performances have been as well.  What really bothers me and what no one seems to be talking about is Robin Thicke’s part in all of this.  He was up on the stage with Miley Cryus grinding into him.  (A woman who is much younger than he is, all the while singing ‘I know you want it’).

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The other day I was reading my Facebook news feed when someone posted this link…

http://givenbreath.com/2013/09/03/fyi-if-youre-a-teenage-girl/

To spare you from reading it, I will summarize. The writer, a mother, tells teenage girls that if they post sexy selfies in states of undress, then they will be deleted from her’s sons accounts as she and her husband “are hoping to raise men with a strong moral compass, and men of integrity don’t linger over pictures of scantily clad high-school girls.” The blogger goes on to say “I know your family would not be thrilled at the thought of my teenage boys seeing you only in your towel. Did you know that once a male sees you in a state of undress, he can’t quickly un-see it?  You don’t want our boys to only think of you in this sexual way, do you?”

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So let me make sure I understand this; if a woman and a man put on a sexualized performance, then the woman is the one who is the slut? She is the one who clearly needs psychological help and is headed for a breakdown? The man, however, is just doing what men do.  If a teenage girl poses for a sexy selfie then she is somehow corrupting moral teenage boys? Teenage boys will only think of a girl in a sexual way if they see her a state of undress first, not because teenagers (of all genders) are full of raging hormones.  It is the girls fault if boys think about her in a sexual way.  And the best way to deal with the issue of your son seeing girls in a sexual way is to ignore it?  Tell me, when has that ever worked?

How about this?  How about if we lay blame, then we lay it equally?  Robin Thicke and Miley Cryus were both part of a performance that is generally considered too sexualized for a group of 14 yrs. olds. However, this doesn’t mean that the young viewers are now corrupted. This should give parents an ‘in’ on how to talk to their teens about sexuality, about rape culture, about victim blaming, about bullying, about a lack of privacy online, about…the list is almost endless. Why do we always seem to fall back to the default setting of victimizing a female for her sexuality?

A random last thought: When rereading this post, I noticed the little green dots indicating a grammatical error under the word slut.  According to my mac the word slut is a “sexist expression. The word may offend some readers as it is pejorative and can only be applied to women.” Even the English language insists on viewing women’s sexuality negatively.

The perils of caregiving

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For the majority of us, our first memories are of our mother’s caring for us.  The goal always being to move on from that type of dependent relationship to one in which we are independent.  We are taught to grow up, take care of ourselves and emphasis is placed on caring for ourselves. This push away from interdependence or dependency has the potential and in many cases devalues the role of those providing the care.  A role which is typically filled by women.

Did you know that in Canada 66% of caregivers are female, that there are 65.7 million caregivers in the US, 35% of caregivers view their own health as poor, and that many women give up their jobs to provide care, losing income, benefits and security later in life.  Not to mention the proven negative health effects of caregiving.  For example, did you know that caring for a person with dementia can have an impact on your immune system for up to 3 years increasing the caregivers chances of developing a chronic illness and themselves needing care (Family Caregiver Alliance, http://www.caregiver.org/caregiver/jsp/content_node.jsp?nodeid=439).

So where does that leave us?  With communities of people who require care and receive care, mainly from women, these women carers leaves holes in the workforce, lose their financial security, leaving them open to poverty and illness and then full circle the carers are in need of care. All the while, the health care and caregiving services was valued at $450 billon in 2009.

So why the disconnect?  Well, according to Health Canada’s, Women’s Health Strategy, “women are under-represented as policy makers, decision makers and educators in many segments of the health sector. Certain groups of women are doubly disadvantaged in these respects, because of their ethnicity or their sexual orientation or because they have a disability and are less likely to be included in key roles and areas of the health system” (http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/pubs/_women-femmes/1999-strateg/index-eng.php). So basically, care giving is provided by women and policy makers who are predominately men do nothing to address the fundamental issues surrounding ethics of care.  Issues which can, in turn, lead to more people requiring care due to caregiver related illnesses.

As a woman who has worked in a care giving capacity for several years it boggles my mind that this state of affairs is allowed to continue.  Devaluing those who require care and those who give care places the very fabric of our society at risk.  In the words of the feminist philosopher Eva Feder Kittay “the first goal of public policy must be to empower society’s dependency workers” (Ethics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminism-ethics).

Considering that the majority of society began with a woman caring for them, will have women caregivers throughout theirs lives and potentially at the end of their lives, it only makes sense that caregiving is valued accordingly.