Two unrelated events that evoke the image of strong women in America took place this past week and got me thinking.
First, on Saturday, America was witness to the spectacle of at least 3 million women, children, and men marching for women’s rights across Washington, D.C. Around the country and the world hundreds of thousands of others marched in similar “sister” marches across at least 650 cities and small towns.
The sight made me proud to live in a country in which freedom to gather and march on behalf of a cause is protected under the Constitution. At the same time, I was saddened that in 2018, women in our country continue to struggle with significant disparities in pay and other forms of even more pernicious discrimination and injustice.
The second event was the passing of 92-year-old Mary Doyle Keefe, the model for Norman Rockwell’s iconic “Rosie the Riveter painting. As a 19-year-old telephone operator, Keefe posed for the famous poster, which became the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943. Rockwell’s image came to symbolize the amazing strength and endurance of American women working on the home front during World War II, and has been resurrected many times since to make a similar point.
As I pondered each of these things, a song came to mind, which seemed to put it all in perspective. Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman” is that song. Released in 1971, Reddy’s song was released the same year that my husband, Larry, was killed in the Vietnam War.
I’d been recently discharged from the Menninger Clinic and had made the decision to begin my life over in Kansas. With the help of the United States Air Force, I moved the trailer house Larry had purchased for our daughter, Laura, and me to Kansas. Larry had bought the trailer as a kind of insurance policy. Thank goodness for his foresight, as it was to become a haven for us during that time of trauma and turbulent transition.
When I first heard “I am a Woman,” it spoke to me. It reminded me that I, too, come from a long line of strong women. There was my mother, who, pregnant when my Daddy died, was left alone to raise nine-year-old me and my fourteen-year-old brother. There was my grandmother, Nennie, who launched her own interior decorating business in the fifties. She was always one of my personal inspirations, and among my staunchest advocates.
Back in Kansas, I tried my best to always keep moving forward in life. I returned to the university and devoted myself to raising Laura. After she went to bed each night, I completed my homework. As all single parents know, it was a balancing act. There were days I played Reddy’s album over and over.
At the time, I was especially sad, lonely and sorely in need of the psychiatric support I received as an outpatient. But it was Reddy’s “I Am Woman” that truly inspired me to keep on keeping on when I thought I couldn’t.
So, in 2018, whether you’re a marcher or a riveter, America needs your strength of will to show the world that more than half of our nation’s population stands together in support of a society in which equality isn’t just legislated, but lived.
Listen to the words of Reddy’s “I Am Women.” If you’re looking for encouragement, perhaps it’ll do for you what it did for me and still does. Enjoy.
© Tyra Manning 2018