Wonder Woman Firsts

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This year the United Nations selected Wonder Woman as an honorary ambassador to promote gender equity. An uproar ensued, and the United Nations withdrew the ambassadorship because Wonder Woman was too sexy. Apparently strong women cannot also be sexy women.

Fortunately, the United Nations did not have the authority to compel the United States Postal Service to stop issuing a Wonder Woman stamp in October (with a preview at Comic-Con in July). In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman—she first appeared in 1941—USPS printed four power poses, representing four ages of Wonder Woman.

In the first row she wields a hammer. Although this image carries an allusion to Thor, it is intended to represent the Modern Age and show Wonder Woman’s “power and determination.” The second row represents the Bronze Age, with bullets bouncing off Wonder Woman’s bracelet as she fights injustice. In the third row Wonder Woman has her golden lasso close at hand, the instrument with which she compels her enemies to tell the truth. (Where is she when we need her so today?) Representing the Silver Age, and demonstrating her strength and speed, she “prefers compassion to the use of brute force.” Finally, we see Wonder Woman of the Golden Age, just as William Moulton Marston created her. Yes, you read that correctly. She was created by a man. It was his wife who suggested that Marston create a woman superhero, but it was Marston’s belief in a woman’s strength and ability to determine her own path in life that led Marston to imbue Diana Prince with power and dignity.

Nor did the United Nations have the ability to diminish the honor bestowed by Entertainment Weekly earlier this year. The magazine evaluated 50 Superheroes along a number of dimensions and Wonder Woman came out on top. Granted, the ten criteria used to evaluate the superheroes included Cultural Impact and Modern Relevance, where Wonder Women received perfect scores. Her overall score of 90.3 (out of a potential 100) just beat out Spider-Man at 90.0 and Batman at 89.7.

The United Nations also could not stop the production of a movie about Wonder Woman—the first movie about a woman superhero. To put this in perspective: Batman has had nine movies made about him and Superman has headlined seven. And to put icing on the cake: A woman, Patty Jenkins, will direct. Jenkins has the distinction of being the first woman hired to do a Marvel movie. She was to direct the sequel to Thor but “creative differences” led to another director taking over. Jenkins credits the studio for hiring her, even if she did not complete the movie. The movie about Wonder Woman is scheduled for release in 2017.

 

For more Information on Wonder Woman: I highly recommend Jill Lepore’s book The Secret History of Wonder Woman

Navy Honors Grace Hopper

GRACE HOPPERThere has never been a building at any of the major military academies named after a woman—until now! The First Woman to have this honor is Grace Hopper whose name will grace the U.S. Naval Academy’s new cyber facility. Grace Hopper was a pioneer in computer programming and a U.S. Navy Rear Admiral.

Hopper holds the title of First Woman in several other instances as well:

–She was the First Woman director at Ecker-Mauchly Computer Corporation where she worked on compiler-based programming languages for UNIVAC. Back in the days before many others realized that someday we would all have computers, Grace Hopper was working to make computers accessible.

–She was the first recipient (not just woman) of the (catch the name) Science Man-of-the-Year award presented by the Data Processing Management Association in 1969.

–She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society in 1973. Not only was she the First Woman in the world to receive this honor, she was also the first person from the United States who was recognized.

Prior to the Naval Academy’s decision to name a building for her, Grace Hopper also had a guided missile destroyer christened in her name. I can’t help but wonder is she wasn’t a guided missile herself, aimed directly at destroying stereotypes about women.

(For more information about Grace Hopper, read my earlier blog from 2013)

FIRST WOMEN OF COLOR AT THE OLYMPICS

SIMONE MANUEL

Simone Manuel is the First African American Woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming. Her time in the 2016 Olympics of 52.70 seconds set both an American and Olympic record. An amazing feat for a woman who belongs to the meager 1.3% of African Americans who are members of USA Swimming. Manuel is majoring in science, technology and society.

There were other African-American Women who medaled at the Olympics before Simone Manuel and Simone Biles, the gymnast who will carry the U.S. flag at the closing ceremonies. Some of the more famous are:

ALICE COACHMAN–Alice Coachman was the first woman of color to be a member of the U.S. track and field team. She became the First African-American Woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1948. Her medal in the high jump was the only gold medal for the U.S. Team that year.

WILMA RUDOLPH

 

–Wilma Rudolph was the First American Woman to win three track and field gold medals at the Olympics. A sickly child who wore a brace on her leg as a child, she medaled in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome.

 

VONETTA FLOWERS–Vonetta Flowers was the first black athlete, male or female, to win a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. She started her athletic career as a sprinter and long jumper but switched to bobsledding in the 2002 Olympics. She and Jill Bakken won in the first year this event was included in the Olympics for women. (Men had been competing in the bobsled in the Olympics for 70 years by then).

 

DOMINIQUE DAWES–In 1996 Dominique Dawes was the First Black Person of any nationality or gender to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. She was also the first African-American woman to win an individual Olympic medal in artistic gymnastics. During this year’s Olympics she introduced a trailer for an upcoming movie, “Hidden Figures,” which is about three African American women mathematicians who provided critical assistance to John Glenn’s first flight.

First Women in the Olympics: Part One – A Short History

 

If you read the Olympic websites, you would believe that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) is thoroughly committed to the equality of women in sports. However, this commitment is relatively new. It was not until 2012, just four years ago, that every country participating in the Olympics had women athletes. This was the same year that women competed, for the first time, in all sports.

MARGARET ABBOTT        When the Olympics were revived in 1890, women were prohibited from participation. That changed in 1900 when women competed in the Paris games. The First American Woman (and second woman internationally) to win a gold medal was Margaret Abbott, a golfer who was studying art in Paris at the time. Her mother, Mary Perkins Ives Abbott also competed in the event, making this the first—and last—time a mother and daughter competed in the Olympics.

Margaret Abbott and her mother were among the 22 women competing in Paris, out of the full contingent of 997 athletes. Women competed in five sports: croquet, tennis, golf, sailing, and equestrianism. In 1924 women reached 136 in numbers. However, by this time, there were 2,954 men participating, so their percentage increased only marginally. That same year, in the Olympic 100-meter backstroke, Sybil Bauer broke a swimming world record that had been held previously by a man.

BETTY ROBINSON       Four years later Elizabeth “Betty” Robinson Schwartz was awarded the first Olympic gold medal for a woman in track and field. In 1931, she was in a plane crash. Believing she was dead, she was taken to the morgue and found to be in a coma. Her recovery was slow as she struggled to walk normally and finally to run. Although she could not bend over into the starting position for a race, she competed on the American women’s relay team in the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. The Americans beat Hitler’s Germans and won the gold.

It was not until 1981, one hundred and one years after the Olympics were revived, that women served as board members on the IOC. Was it a coincidence that women were allowed to compete in the marathon at the Olympics shortly after, in 1984? Joan Benoit, who had set a Boston Marathon record that lasted for 28 years, won the gold.

Five years later, in 1986, Anita DeFrantz, a former U.S. rowing team captain, became the First African American Woman to serve on the IOC. Was it any coincidence that five years after, in 1991, the IOC decided that any new sport added to the Olympics must include both men’s and women’s events?

SARAH HENDRICKSON        Even this change, however had some limits. Although women could compete in every sport, they could not necessarily compete in every event. As late as 2006 the International Ski Federation petitioned the IOC to allow women to ski jump in the Olympics. It took two more winter Olympics, and eight years, before the IOC agreed. In 2014 Sarah Hendrickson was the First Woman ever to ski jump at the Olympics. In 2016 women will earn 44% of all medals awarded.

Pat Summitt – First Coach

Discipline helps you finish a job, and finishing is what separates

excellent work from average work.” [Pat Summitt]

 PAT SUMMITT       Pat Summitt was coach of the Tennessee Vols women’s basketball team from 1974-2012. When she died two weeks ago, her face appeared in the news, something that occurred often during her career, but not as frequently in the past few years as she battled Alzheimer’s.

When she began her career at the age of 22, women’s basketball was not formally recognized by the NCAA. Summitt had to organize bake sales to purchase uniforms, wash the uniforms herself, and then drive the van to games. When she retired, women’s basketball had a professional league, and her former players were prominent in it.

She was the first NCAA coach (not just the First Woman) to reach 1,000 wins. Her list of achievements is lengthy. Here are just a few highlights:

–Reached the Final Four when she was under 30

–Won the national title when she was under 35

–Won 8 national titles

–Had 31 consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament

–First coach (male or female) to reach 800 wins. Only four coaches have achieved the same.

—In total, had 1,098 wins, more than any other Division I coach (male or female)

–Never had a losing season.

–Inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame as a coach the first year coaches were honored

–Presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama

–Received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award in 2012, after she publicly announced she was battling Alzheimer’s

–Was the Only Woman on the list of the 50 Greatest Coaches of All Time, according to Sporting News in 2009

Her most impressive statistic, in my opinion, is that every player who finished out her eligibility under Pat Summitt graduated from college. Her players speak of the leadership she not only provided, but taught them. “We learned about what it takes to be a leader,” said WNBA star Tamika Catchings, “what it takes to be a great woman, what it takes to be a great lady. . .”