Today is the 25th Anniversary of the day that Dr. Roberta Bondar became the first Canadian woman in space and when that information appeared in my Facebook feed this morning, it made me think of a story about her.
I was a session leader at an International Guide Camp in Guelph in the summer of 1993. Dr. Bondar held some honorary role with the camp, so, one night, she came to speak to us all.
I didn’t even really know who she was, aside from the fact that she was an astronaut. I was 21 years old, a bit caught up in my own personal quests and while I was definitely all about equality, I’m not even sure if I described myself as a feminist at that point. So, while I thought it was cool that she had been in space, I don’t think I fully understood the obstacles she would have faced to get there.
Her speech was fantastic and left me feeling stirred and empowered, that much I know, but I don’t remember the specifics.
In fact the only detail I remember is that earlier in the week the local newspaper had published a ‘political’ cartoon featuring an image of the camp. One of the tents had a speech balloon over it with the phrase ‘Oooh! I broke a nail.’
We had been all furious of course. Seeing that stereotype, having our efforts diminished. Sure, we knew it had been intended as a joke, but every girl there knew about that type of joke – one that wasn’t intended to include us, one that wasn’t laughing with us, but one that was mocking our efforts, one that was intended to remind us of our place. We had felt those jokes before and we knew we were in for a lifetime of them.
Dr. Bondar got us all riled up on our own potential, our own power, and then she told us that she had seen the cartoon and that she was writing a letter to the paper. She said she was going to tell them that…
‘The only nails broken at this camp are made of steel, baby!’
My heart still thrills thinking of that moment.
Here was a powerful woman, an astronaut, a doctor and she wasn’t telling us we were being silly for being upset. She wasn’t telling us that we were overreacting. She was telling us that we were right, they were wrong and that she had our backs.
It resonates with me to this day and it’s one of the (many) reasons I make sure to tell young women that I see when they are being slighted and that I have their backs. I’m no Roberta Bondar, obviously, but I do what I can.
Thank you Dr. Bondar
, from my 21-year-old-self.
And, even more so, from my 44-year-old-self.