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  • Writer's pictureJo Page

"The Daughters of Lions are Lions, too"

Elizabeth Warren ended her campaign just a couple of days before International Women's Day--ironically also the first day of Daylight Savings Time, a time when we get twenty-three hours instead of twenty-four--calling to my mind something about the disparity between men's and women's paychecks.

Setting that thought aside for now, I basked in the longer light and looked around among the motley volumes that seem to grow, unbidden, on my bookshelves. I pulled out a hefty tome edited by editors of The New York Times and published in 1988 under their imprint and on good paper.

The New York Times Great Lives of the Twentieth Century seemed browse-worthy while it was still just warm enough to sit bundled up out on the deck. But once I cracked the spine, the feminist bean-counter in me got curious and I went back indoors.

I began to calculate: Of the fifty great lives cited in chapters filled with NYTimes articles about them, only six of these had belonged to women.

What's the problem with that, right? It's a smidge higher than five percent. And isn't that an acceptable ratio to represent 50% of the world's population? And hey, the percentage of women in the world is steadily dropping, so I guess cis-gender women were more widely represented than I first thought, at maybe 5.5 % of the book. (Persons of color were better represented, at a whopping ten percent, though none of them were women.)

I began to page through the many men included--and pondered about women's visibility prior to 1988.

What's not to love about Louis Armstrong? But what's also not to love about Ella and Billie and Dinah, whose voices are silent here?

Fred Astaire is fabulous, but what about Ginger Rogers doing it all in high heels and backwards?

I love the poet W. H. Auden with my heart and soul, but did we need both him and T.S. Eliot in this Top Fifty? Author Edith Wharton made far the greater cultural impact. Arguably, so did Dorothy Parker, Mary McCarthy and Sylvia Plath. And had there been any thought given to a female person of color.? Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God raised the visibility of the Harlem Renaissance, though her ground-breaking novel was panned by male critics.

Coco Chanel, who gave us the Little Black Dress, is amongst the Greats. But Marie Curie who pioneered radioactive research, received the Nobel Prize twice and died from her work in science is not. Nor is aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart who, unlike Charles Lindbergh, was not a racist nor Hitler sympathizer.

Pablo Picasso and Vladimir Nabokov, both included, had some interesting ideas about femininity and sexuality. Nabokov, of course, gave no real quarter to his pedophile protagonist, Humbert Humbert, whom he described as "a vain and cruel wretch" (though Humbert outshines the eponymous character of Lolita for sheer force of presence). And Picasso seemed quite at home with his misogyny, asserting women were either "goddesses or doormats." I'd have traded one of these for--oh, say, Betty Friedan.

Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson rank among these Greats and with good reason, but so do Wilma Rudolph, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Babe Didrikson Zaharias and Billie Jean King.

Political theorists and philosophers such as Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong and Bertrand Russell have their claims to greatness undeniably, but so do author Hannah Arendt, activists Rosa Parks and Rosa Luxemburg and suffragette Emily Pankhurst.

In his Introduction, New York Times editor, A.M. Rosenthal, admits the historical bias against women in this collection, saying that "It may tell something about The Times that there were comparatively few women given major attention."

Media bias much?

The sun is setting on International Woman's Day at my house this evening. The theme this year, during this twenty-three hour day, was "I Am Generation Equality: Realizing Women's Rights."

One necessary prerequisite to realizing women's rights is to realize the work of women all around us. That's been long delayed, long ignored. And long over-due.

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