The first woman I remember learning about in school was Frida Kahlo during my sophomore year of high school in Spanish class. I saw her as a self-centered Mexican painter, why else would she spend her life painting self portraits if she wasn’t obviously obsessed with herself? However, if any research was done beforehand about Frida and her life, my teacher would have informed us that she was in a bus accident leaving her bed ridden for several months, during which she found her passion for painting by placing a mirror above her and painting herself. Later, when Frida was asked why she only painted self portraits, she stated, “I paint self-portraits because I am the person I know best. I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is what I paint because I need to and I paint whatever passes through my head without any consideration.” All of Frida’s art is personal and was never meant to mean anything to anyone except herself. Today, she is considered a feminist icon and the inspiration for many female artists, and yet she was introduced to me as nothing more than a conceited woman.
Throughout history, women's stories and experiences have been ignored, forgotten or not given their rightful credit. When they are mentioned, women often are given derogatory, belittling descriptions such as being self-centered, angry, complaining, a wife of someone, etc. We hardly ever get the whole of who they were and what they stood for. If I hadn’t done my own personal research on Frida Kahlo after class, I wouldn’t of known the things I know about her now.
What will happen to young women growing up that do not know the stories of important women? Young women who are left to hear only of men and what they have accomplished? I’m not saying that we should take away the accomplishments of men, but I am saying that boys are given a lot of figures to look up to, but what about the girls? Why does it take so long for women’s stories to come into the open and why does it take so long for them to be believed? Who are young women supposed to look up to? It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school that I found a woman figure to inspire me in all the work that I do. What I want more than anything is for girls to have women to look up to.
Fortunately, times are changing. Women are slowly but surely receiving the credit they deserve for the work they have accomplished. My six year old cousin has books upon books of rebellious women in history. Her biggest inspiration is Katherine Johnson. Every night she makes someone read her the book, “A Computer Named Katherine,” a picture book telling the inspiring story of Katherine Johnson and her accomplishments as a NASA research mathematician. Because of Katherine, my cousin adores math, counting each step she takes, just as Katherine did when she was younger. Sharing these womens’ stories gives hope to and inspire young girls, just as Katherine Johnson did for my cousin. Their stories should be shared for all people, young and old. The impact of their stories is bigger than may be imagined.
Illustration by Janie Peacock