Sally Ride, quiet advocacy, and you.

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.

So? And?

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.

4 Responses to Sally Ride, quiet advocacy, and you.

  1. Every time a news person would go on and ON about how “she’s 6 months PREGNANT!”, I just wanted to call in and say, “women can do things when they’re pregnant. It doesn’t shut off her brain! Pregnancy, in general, does not render a woman helpless, ignorant, or incapable.” Except I wanted to scream it. But I didn’t. Yes, I am pleased to hear about a woman chosen for her profession, I am proud! But I am also in AWE of the pregnant women I see who work in the factory here. They have to stand on concrete for 8-12 hours a day, 5-7 days a week. Lifting, pushing, pulling, sweeping, sweating, walking, walking, walking…. And every other thing we have to do in our daily lives.
    I don’t always correct the masseuse term, either. I wouldn’t want to keep talking to someone who cut me off at the neck because I pronounced her title incorrectly. In my experience, the people around me who say “masseuse” have NO idea that it “might” mean prostitute. They get embarrassed and stuff. I will say, however, that the stupid little jokes made by people that I know WILL get an abrupt reply from me. If it is a stranger, and they REALLY aren’t trying to be mean, they will get a gentle-abrupt reply.

  2. Thanks for being my newest Women’s Studies Friend among the many Women’s Studies Friends I’ve had the pleasure of knowing over the years. It’s useful to have the complacency knocked out of my head every so often. :)

    I’m with you on the “masseuse” thing. It’s not worth my time to correct it. I know what my clients mean, and unless they ask if that’s the proper term to use, I’m not in the business of correcting/shaming/diminishing hospitality.

  3. Sharon says:

    Thank you for this article. I still work in the defense industry as well as massage part-time.

    You hit so many buttons here, the quiet activism, the masseuse v. massage therapist issue, Sally Ride and her quiet, personal life, and her kindness to one who had to be suffering horribly at the hands of his employer and co-workers while dealing with the guilt of not being able to stop the deaths of those astronauts. I’m just choked up and don’t know what else to say except thank you and keep up the good work.

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