As women, we’ve often gotten the short end of the stick. And we’ve had to fight for our fair share and treatment. From Susan B. Anthony to Rosa Parks, women have more than made their mark on history.
As we look back on Women’s History Month, it’s important to remember these figures, but also to remember the unsung heroes in our lives. Those women who, while not leaders in women’s rights, have made their mark on our lives in irreplaceable ways.
For me it’s been my mother. She first showed me how to be a woman by leading, not in a protest line, but by example; teaching me how not only to care for a family but how to buck the system just enough to make a difference.
A first-generation American, she was a small business owner in her 30s. During a time when women stayed home and did the cooking, cleaning and child rearing, she did all that and more.
She cared for the home front and the store front while my father focused on his studies, first in college earning his B.A. and then while working toward his Ph.D.
She was involved in her community and helped out with local causes; she was strong but loving and never too busy to lend a hand or offer guidance to family and friends.
She taught me through example how to treat others; a lot of the ways she is are the way I am today.
My mother just celebrated her 90th birthday. And, while she’s slowed down a bit, she’s still the woman I remember while growing up and she’s still a hero in my life.
Things have changed since the ‘50s when my mom opened her salon. Women aren’t expected to stay home with the kids, and the thought of a woman business owner no longer raises eyebrows or incites judgmental whispers. But flashes of that mindset remain.
Last month I went to visit my husband, Scott, at the California Capitol. I’m often dismayed at the things I see there, but this time was different.
One of my husband’s colleagues, Sen. Janet Nguyen, was physically removed from the Senate Chambers for voicing an unpopular opinion. I had to ask myself if that would’ve happened had Sen. Nguyen been a man. This is exactly the treatment Susan B. Anthony and so many women’s rights leaders fought to end.
Silencing women was once the norm; when I saw it happening that day at the Capitol I realized we still haven’t freed ourselves entirely of the mentality that women are somehow lesser.
Often, today’s inequality is more subtle. It’s in a comment or a tone or look; it’s in a paycheck or a job offer — or lack thereof. And it’s often in the challenges women face that go unnoticed and unaddressed.
That’s why, in an effort reminiscent of my mother’s community involvement, I helped to start a mentoring program. A few years back, my Soroptimist International women’s organization started mentoring a group of young ladies ages 8-18.
Soroptimist focuses on improving the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. When we started this program we thought we would change the lives of these girls, and really they have changed ours.
The program has been an amazing experience, one I’m proud to be a part of, and it’s reminded me that being a role model is not limited to relatives.
I am constantly inspired by women who do so much for their families and their communities – often while facing seemingly insurmountable hurdles.
Every March we celebrate National Women’s History Month, and every year we talk about the Susan B. Anthonys of our past who beat impossible odds to change the world. But for me, it’s just as important to remember the women we see every day who do the same.
Single moms who also find time to volunteer, wives who put their husbands through school to give their kids a better future, women who’ve barely been given a chance but never give up. These women are all around us.
Let’s make sure we do all we can to lift them up and recognize their contributions to our community.
Vanessa Wilk is a Santa Clarita resident and a Republican who is active in a number of community organizations and groups.