This week’s format is different from past posts. I was taken by the stories of these three women over the past week, so I thought I would highlight their accomplishments in case you missed these stories. I hope you are as inspired by them as I am! I would love to hear your thoughts, so comment away or feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This week brings us the stories of three courageous women who stood up to the world in different ways. Demonstrating the courage to stand up to sexist and racist systems, each woman had a different outcome, but their steeliness in the face of oppression deserves our attention and congratulations.
Olivia De Havilland
Our first Fierce Woman is the actor Olivia De Havilland who died at the age of 104 this week. Ms. De Havilland started her career with Warner Brothers film studio playing roles as a blushing ingenue alongside Errol Flynn in several movies, but she craved meatier, more complex roles. Ms. De Havilland’s most famous role as Melanie in “Gone With the Wind” was one that she had to fight her studio president, Jack Warner, to obtain since it was produced by a different studio. Upon her return, she began refusing roles, and Warner punished her by suspending her repeatedly. Upon reaching the end of her seven-year contract, Warner told her that she was still “studio property” because she owed him the time from when she was suspended. She sued and the case wound its way up to the Supreme Court. The Court found in her favor and she was freed from the contract. As a result, none of the Hollywood studios could use suspensions as punishments to extend actors’ contracts beyond seven years as had been custom. It became known as the “De Havilland Rule”, and it changed the power dynamic between studios and actors. Actors now had much more control over which parts they would take or refuse, thanks to Olivia!
Our second Fierce Woman is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If you have not already watched the video of Rep. Ocasio-Cortez from July 20, please take a moment now to do so. It is a master class in explaining how language matters, especially the language that leaders use. In her composed and patient rhetoric, she takes down the man who called her a “fucking bitch”, Representative Ted Yoho. She lays her case out in a calm demeanor and says that it was not so much the fact that he called her a vulgar name that drove her to speak out, but his use of the “Daughter Defense” in his non-apology. She explains that when Representative Yoho referred to having daughters and a wife as a defense, he was giving all men permission to use the same offensive language. She says,
“And this I could not allow … I could not allow the victims of verbal abuse, and worse to see that – to see that excuse and see our Congress accept it as legitimate. I do have issue with using women, our wives and daughters as shields, as excuses for poor behavior. I am someone’s daughter too. I am their daughter, and they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.”
Brava to Representative Ocasio-Cortez for standing up to a bully of a man! Having that speech read into the Congressional Record will be one cited for the ages.
Professor Maureen Healy
Our third Fierce Woman is more personal and meaningful to me. It goes to my sister-in-law, Maureen “Mo” Healy. Mo is a professor of history at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR. More importantly, Mo is a wonderful and compassionate woman, mother, friend, and yes, a protester. Mo was peacefully protesting in Portland last Monday evening along with many others. She was nowhere near the front of the protest and was simply chanting with the crowd when the federal troops shot some sort of impact munitions (amazing the terms we are having learn now) into the crowd. She was hit in the head close to her eye. Fortunately, there was a medic who was able to attend to her and call her husband to take her to the emergency room. She sustained a concussion and a laceration next to her eye. While I am horrified that Mo was hurt, I am incredibly proud of her for standing up for what is right. Recently deceased Representative John Lewis would have lauded her for creating “good trouble”. You can read Mo’s full statement here, but the sentence that stood out to me is, “It dawned on me when I was in the ER, and had a chance to catch my breath (post tear gas): my government did this to me.” Indeed they did, now what are the rest of us going to do?