She rode the Challenger in 1983. She became the first American woman—and, at 32, the youngest American—to fly in space.

I remember that flight vividly. And I remember all the press around the appointment of this First Woman. Partly that’s because when I was a child, I was desperate to be an astronaut. I used to sit in the backyard, long after everyone had gone to sleep, gazing at the stars, wanting to be up there, exploring. Until I found out NASA wouldn't hire you if you needed glasses.

This is from the New York Times obituary. And it is the other reason I remember Sally Ride so well. “Before the first shuttle flight, Dr. Ride — chosen in part because she was known for keeping her cool under stress — politely endured reporters’ asking whether spaceflight would affect her reproductive organs, whether she planned to have children, whether she would wear a bra or makeup in space, whether she cried on the job, how she would handle menstruation in space.

The CBS News reporter Diane Sawyer asked her to demonstrate a newly installed privacy curtain around the shuttle’s toilet. On “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson joked that the shuttle flight would be delayed because Dr. Ride had to find a purse to match her shoes.”

 The perfidy of sexism. The condescension, the dismissal. It washed over me again.

Sure, we’ve come a long way. Such a long way that now, when a major executive is pregnant, she has to assure the world that she isn’t going to take a maternity leave—because she’s just like one of the guys. She doesn’t need to recover, or be with her baby. She just needs to get right back to work. 

Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo, isn’t doing anyone any favors with that kind of “leadership.” But it is her business, how she handles her time with her newborn.

 And that, I suppose, is how far we’ve come.

Sally Ride wrote of what she learned in space, that it "has taught us to appreciate Earth--it's revolutionized our view of our planet and our understanding of its complexity, and made us see the impact that we're having on it."

 Meantime, I’m still looking for shoes that match my bag.

1 comment:

MarlaD said...

What you've written here is spot on. I'm your age, and the news of Sally's death really hit me hard. I didn't want to be an astronaut, but something to do with math...I ended up a Civil Engineer. I've had a great career and accomplished more goals than I dreamed possible but it was tough every step of the way due to being a woman in a mans world. It still is in many ways. I'm not bitter at all, just a realist. I was once asked in an interview how I'd check on a job in the field wearing high heels...I said I'd keep a pair of boots under the desk just like the guys do...I didn't get the job. It's a paradox how far we've come without coming far at all. I haven't thought of Sally for years but I sure remember how courageous and awesome I thought she was back then and I'm sure sad she's gone.