You've likely heard that Sally Ride passed away this week. I remember being eight years old when she became the first American woman (and the youngest American astronaut thus far) on a space flight. My dad helped me write a letter to her, I wish I could remember what it said. I'm pretty sure I wrote it with a big chunky second grader's pencil. I would like to believe I wrote something prolific and intelligent, so I'll remember it that way.
Sidebar: Women of my generation, the Gen X -ers weirdly sandwiched between the Boomers and the Millennials, have seen a lot of firsts for women. My reactions to the publicity surrounding any particular first have run the spectrum of "Wow!" to "So? And?" I've often forgotten that women only gained the right to vote in 1920. Women still earn less than men in comparable jobs, and when Yahoo appointed Marissa Meyer CEO last week the big news was about her pregnancy more than anything else.
Back to Sally Ride. Check out this bit from an article published at the time of her first flight.
No other astronaut was ever asked questions like these: Will the flight affect your reproductive organs? The answer, delivered with some asperity: "There's no evidence of that." Do you weep when things go wrong on the job? Retort: "How come nobody ever asks Rick those questions?" Will you become a mother? First an attempt at evasion, then a firm smile: "You notice I'm not answering." In an hour of interrogation that is by turns intelligent, inane and almost insulting, Ride remains calm, unrattled and as laconic as the lean, tough fighter jockeys who surround her. "It may be too bad that our society isn't further along and that this is such a big deal," she reflects.
She deflected the sexist inquiries with humor, a little attitude and a confidence in her place among astronauts. (And not for nothing, she was the only person who publicly supported the guy who predicted the 1986 Challenger explosion. The rest of the industry shunned him for blowing the whistle.)
Dr. Ride went on to do all sorts of very cool things, from teaching physics to investigating the Colombia shuttle accident. She created Sally Ride Science "an innovative science education company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology." An intensely private person, it wasn't until her obituary was published that we learned she was gay and been with her partner (also the COO and VP of Sally Ride Science) for 27 years.
Plenty of women have achieved amazing firsts, it's not quite so remarkable anymore (except when it is.) What is resonating with me is how quiet Dr. Ride was in her path. She didn't walk into situations guns a-blazing with the rhetoric of politics and equality. She handled absurd questions well, without losing her cool. She excelled at her job, found love, created amazing things that enrich the lives of others. Quietly.
Not all activists are loud. When faced with the "Do you give happy endings?" question from some ignoramus, responding gently is just as valid as responding firmly. We can choose the tone with which we say, "Well, that's not the kind of service I provide."
Not all activists are contrarians. I've been choosing to not correct people who use the term masseuse. Instead I conduct myself professionally, so that, for them, the term will not be associated with prostitution. (Which I have no moral opposition to, it's just not the service I provide.)
You can be an advocate for massage without being an activist. You can be an activist without being loud. I think sometimes we forget that. (Insert a cliche 'Be The Change' here.)
So here's to you, all the quiet, skilled, amazing practitioners out there, just keeping your head down and providing amazing massage to amazing clients who are now quiet advocates themselves. Thanks for representing. Thanks for being the backbone of our profession. You are groundbreaking in your own right, in your own way. And I love you for that.