The new film Hidden Figures tells the story of three black women (among many) who helped to save the American Space Program. In segregated Virginia, these women battled both racism and misogyny, deftly fended off micro- and macro-aggressions against both race and sex, and figured out the very mathematics necessary to launch Americans into orbit and bring them back safely. Ultimately, their work helped to win the Cold War.
Their stories have been largely untold until now. Their lives were mostly unknown by the general population. Sadly, despite their incalculable service to their country, despite the fact that they fought against all odds and proved their value and their capabilities, the same fights are still being waged. Racism is alive and well; misogyny is on its way to taking power in the White House.
After the movie, I happened to overhear two people discussing what they had just seen. “They didn’t complain,” said one person. “They just accepted things for the way they were and worked harder.” These two moviegoers went on to praise the three main characters in the film, not for their genius or their bravery, but for being quiet and meek about the injustices they were forced to overcome. It was, in their minds, good for these three black female heroes to remain hidden.
Someone clearly missed the point.
As a Pagan, I’m proud to be part of a religious community that is on the forefront of the fight for equality. We aren’t perfect. Racism and sexism and other injustices still crop up, but large numbers of our community believe in and actively fight for the equality of all people. To the general public, we are often hidden. They want us, and others who believe in equality, to remain that way.
With an administration that has openly insulted women and advocated racist and xenophobic policies, those who believe in equality can’t afford to remain hidden. What is hidden needs to be revealed, and it needs to claim its power.
One way women are doing that is through the Pussyhat Project. Inspired by President-Elect Trump’s now infamous claim that he can “grab” women “by the pussy,” knitters have created a hat design to bring their support for equality out of the shadows. They are taking a term usually used pejoratively and taking back its power. Many plan to wear the knit hats as they protest the inauguration in Washington D.C. and across the country. It’s a simple, but visible sign of protest. It’s a method of claiming power and refusing to stay hidden.
Contrary to the views of the ladies I overheard, remaining hidden does not help. The three women who sent America into space may well have succeeded in changing the culture of NASA, but it took a larger and more visible fight to make progress against legal segregation. There’s a larger, cultural reason that Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughan were unknown before this movie. The contributions of both women and African-Americans is largely absent from standard history books. That leads to ignorance about their contributions. Ignorance leads to hatred and fear.
The only remedy for ignorance is exposure and education. I’ll be wearing a pussyhat proudly and I look forward to helping my black and female friends shine a light on their contributions to society.