I’ve been lucky this fall to spend a good amount of time in the mountains with some most excellent women—new friends and old. In October I joined my friend Nicole and her friend Claire to complete the Pinnacle Pursuit, a hiking challenge sponsored by the Moosehead Lake Region Chamber of Commerce, designed to bring people to the Greenville area to recreate (and spend money in the local economy).
We took the long October weekend to hike the six mountains within a 48 hour period (thus fulfilling the requirements to be considered “Ultra” Pinnacle Pursuit finishers). Borestone, Whitecap and Number Four Mountains rounded out day one, and Kineo, Big Moose and Eagle Rock filled out day two. After a slow fall and predictions of a dull foliage season, we were blindsided by the sudden pop of fall colors, hitting the north woods at its peak. The 360 degree view from the tower on top if Kineo (a mountain in the middle of Moosehead Lake) and the late afternoon golden glow atop Eagle Rock burned this fall’s foliage into my head, reminding me how lucky I was to leave work behind for two days and spend my time in good company with good conversation in the Maine woods.
This past weekend I joined Charlotte, Becca and Zoe and hiked into winter, climbing the 3000 feet from Grafton Notch to the top of Old Speck, the third highest mountain in Maine. The cloud ceiling was low and the higher we got the more ice there was on the trail, snow in the woods and rime on the trees. The view from the top was of billowing whiteness, and climbing the icy observation tower brought you up above the tree tops and into the full force of the wind. The smell of the air alone as we climbed from the notch to the summit made me giddy, passing through nearly leafless deciduous forest into a thin soiled spruce stand, you could smell winter before you could see it. We did what we’ve done nearly every fall for the past 6 years, hiked together somewhere in Maine, talking deeply and intensely about our lives, our families, the challenges we face and the changes ahead.
My time in the company of fine women doesn’t end in the woods. I find that I am surrounded by strong women cutting a wide swath of important work in this world, my colleagues at work, advancing the place of women in science and engineering; the sister who gets me to run the MDI Marathon relay with her, and who’s professional competency as an educator leaves me humbled; the friend in southern Maine who’s willing to share her insights from her journey into sobriety; the women with whom I will share an annual friends thanksgiving next weekend, educators and mothers working hard to shape good human beings; the mother (and her amazing troop of care givers) negotiating debilitating disease with grace and humor; the grandmother who taught dozens of women to drive a car in the small mill town where she lived, because driving was a step towards independence. Yes, I have many positive female role models in my life, and I am happy that the women in my life and I are able to be role models for the daughters, nieces, cousins and girls of all sorts coming up behind us.
Representation has been on my mind a lot the past year, with the realization that role models are really important. I’ve been thinking a lot about representation, in the media I consume and the communities I am a part of, and how representation shapes the identity I create for myself. It is incredibly hard to picture yourself doing something if you don’t have an image of some one who looks like you doing it. We’ve been having this conversation in science for years. That’s why I was so pleased when I recently watched the remake of the classic 80’s film Ghostbusters—the version that stirred up so much controversy because women were cast in all the main roles, flipping the original casting on its head. The film was predictably silly but the experience of watching it as a woman was energizing. Here, on the screen were all these smart capable female characters, speaking fluent science and engineering (yes, it was of course “movie” science and engineering dialog, but not meant to be comic—there were other things that were clearly funny in the film but the fact that these women were smart and capable wasn’t one of them). It made me fantasize about flipping the gender of all of our mainstream media stories and analyzing them—would Harry Potter read the same if it was Harriet Potter? It has to be possible to tell these stories with women in the lead as easily as men. There is no reason not to.
Of course the biggest gender flip of all is on deck for Tuesday night. And the opportunity to run in real time that experiment, it’s one we’ve been waiting for in this country since the beginning. I know not every body thinks we are ready. But I am, and so are all the young women coming up behind me. This election is really for them, they need to see women on the Supreme Court, women in the House and Senate, women leading corporations, women winning Nobel Prizes and women running the show in the Oval Office.
Gender is of course, not the only reason I’ll be casting my vote on Tuesday morning for Hillary Clinton, nor in fact is it the biggest one. This election (as many are) has been about story telling, which story resonates the strongest with you? Who ever tells it is likely to get your vote. The Clinton campaign has been telling a consistently inclusive story, sharing a vision of taking this country forward, continuing the hard work of creating a society that values all of us, works to eliminate discriminatory privilege and provides opportunity for everyone regardless of race, gender, religion…I know it is somewhat naïve to buy into that story, but here’s the thing—if even a fraction of it is true, that is progress. And that is what I am betting on. That is the country I want to live in. That is the society I work to create around me every day. I already share that vision, I live my life by that vision, I vote for candidates who promote that vision. It’s not exclusively a feminist agenda, it’s a human agenda. The other narrative on the table this election is unthinkable.
Whatever happens on Tuesday, we have a lot of work to do. This won’t end Wednesday morning when we have a new president. We have relationships to rebuild and visions to fight for. We have wounds to heal. We’ll need deep reserves of courage and resilience. We’ll need graciousness and compassion and empathy while at the same time holding people to a high standard and not compromising the values that make this country a place seen as the land of opportunity for so many people around the world. I know we are all exhausted from this campaign, but the real work has only just begun. For that, I am thankful for the presence of all these strong women around me. Whatever happens, we can do this. Let’s do this.