How loud are you?
It’s a simple question but one you may be loath to answer, especially if you’re a woman. We try hard not to make waves because, well, that’s how we’ve been raised.
But as International Women’s Month begins, I’m pumping up the volume to cheer on women who have made a difference during these incredibly challenging times.
Along with the working poor, women have borne the brunt of this pandemic, dropping out of the workforce at nearly twice the rate of men to manage their kids’ remote learning and care for aging parents. But some of our louder sisters have continued not only to push ahead for themselves but to use their upraised voices to help others as well.
So it’s good to take a moment as March begins and trumpet their achievements as successes for all of us.
The first thing worth shouting about happened last week on February 22nd: the US Women’s National Soccer Team won a 24 million-dollar gender discrimination lawsuit that had spanned half a decade. Part of the team’s strategy was to be as loud and as visible as humanly possible-- doubling down to file the lawsuit during the 2019 world cup, rather than waiting ‘til after the competition, as everyone advised. They loudly and correctly claimed that they could win both, under immense pressure and a glaring media spotlight. They were not about to let anyone lecture one of the winningest teams in soccer history about strategy, or be advised to “tone it down.”
Another scrappy voice putting her incredible talents to use for the good of all is Kizzmekia Corbett, who runs Harvard’s new Coronaviruses & Other Relevant Emerging Infectious Diseases (CoreID) Lab.
Formerly head of coronavirus vaccine research at the National Institutes of Health, Corbett was never shy about her ambition. As legend has it, while on a summer internship there, Barney Graham, head of the Vaccine Research Center, asked her what she wanted to achieve in life.
‘I want your job,’” replied Corbett. She eventually got it.
“From the very beginning, she was really pretty bold in her aspirations,” said Graham.
While pursuing vaccine research during the pandemic, she also climbed the scientific ladder and became both an incredible contributor and a lightning rod for controversy.
34, female and African-American, she called out the all-white and nearly all male task force of political appointees assembled by the Trump administration, only to be ridiculed on Twitter and TV by those hellbent on bringing her down.
But since African Americans at one point comprised 80% of those hospitalized for Covid in Georgia and 72% of those who died of the disease in Chicago alone, Corbett felt well within her rights speaking out.
Since then, Corbett has used her platform to address vaccine hesitancy, especially in the African American community. “At the end of the day, taking all of the controversy aside, the one thing that remains is that vaccines happen to be the most life-saving way to prevent disease in this world,” she told ABC news, adding: “I’ve become an expert in empathy as much as an expert in immunobiology. And in the same breath that I was a vaccine inventor, I’ve often served as the vaccine’s cheerleader.”
Having written for decades about how being clear about our ambitions helps play a role in determining what opportunities come our way, I am gratified and impressed to see the no-holds-barred approach of these women as they surmount incredible obstacles to go for what they know is right, not to mention what is their due.
And speaking of no-holds-barred, let’s honor and support the awe-inspiring bravery of the women of Ukraine: refusing to stand down, arming themselves in the fight to defend their homeland, scolding occupiers, inspiring the world.
This is what we can do when we raise our voices.
Ms. Henderson's columns are always interesting and inspiring - keep them coming!