Remembering a Favorite Song

i am woman

The year was 1971. I had just graduated with a degree in engineering – one of only 8 women in a class of hundreds of students from one of the oldest colleges in India. It was also the year in which Helen Reddy’s first recording of “I am Woman” was made.

I am woman, hear me roar
In numbers too big to ignore
And I know too much to go back an’ pretend
‘Cause I’ve heard it all before
And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

It was a few years before it became one of my favorite songs of all time, carried from vinyl to tape to CD to playlist on Spotify. I felt shivers every time I heard the song, though, at that time, I did not fully comprehend the impact of feminism in the Western world.

When growing up, there was never a question in my mind as to what I could and could not do. I did what I wanted to do. To some extent, I took it for granted. I was a feminist at 16, organizing my own one-woman activities, by the definition of feminism:

“Feminism is defined as both “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities” and “organized activity in support of women’s rights and interests.” 

From my small town, I traveled to a major city to enroll in engineering college, and then to yet another city for my first job out of college, when such an act was not normal for a girl of my age or any single woman for that matter in my community. I had to convince my parents to let me do this, which was no small feat. I traveled to the USA with my family towards the end of the 70’s to be an immigrant and make my life here.

Oh yes I am wise
But it’s wisdom born of pain
Yes, I’ve paid the price
But look how much I gained
If I have to, I can do anything

Every one of the milestones in the history of feminism has a story to tell about the toil of women whose hard work, determination and persistence made the gains possible to be enjoyed by today’s women.  The US News website A timeline of women’s rights from 1769 to the 2017 Women’s March on Washington chronicles these milestones, including:

  • 1769 – The colonies adopt the English system decreeing women cannot own property in their own name or keep their own earnings
  • 1777 – All states pass laws which take away women’s right to vote
  • 1866 – The 14th Amendment is passed by Congress, with “citizens” and “voters” defined as “male” in the Constitution.
  • 1890 – The first state (Wyoming) grants women the right to vote in all elections.
  • 1920 – The Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution is ratified, ensuring the right of women to vote.
  • 1923 – The first version of an Equal Rights Amendment is introduced. It says, “Men and women shall have equal rights throughout the United States and every place subject to its jurisdiction.”
  • 1963 – The Equal Pay Act is passed by Congress, promising equitable wages for the same work, regardless of the race, color, religion, national origin or sex of the worker.

There have been more milestones since 1963, but it has been at a glacial pace. There have been a lot of setbacks. And every time we think we have gained we hear from women about how they have been harassed, discriminated against, of all places, in the “progressive” high tech industry!

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

The month of Women’s history is upon us. The future of feminism is in the hands of all young women, and mothers and fathers, and grandmothers and grandfathers of young women and girls. And I am very hopeful that they will see this journey through!

I am woman, watch me grow
See me standing toe-to-toe
As I spread my loving arms across the land
But I’m still an embryo
With a long, long way to go
Until I make my brother understand

A relevant video from McKinsey & Company on 8 facts about gender parity:

This post first appeared in LinkedIn on March 1, 2017.

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