Of Sally Ride and Final Club

For four years I have written for this newspaper, among other publications, and for four years I have endured a wealth of responses (tear-jerker e-mails to 8 a.m. phone threats) from the Harvard community. Street corners and doorways now come alive as I pass, inhabited by my memory's visions of heated debates, sparring and the occasional denial.

My nit-picking journalist's mind picked out the mistakes over those years, the missed chances that bubbled to the surface during those impromptu sparring sessions, and made a scrapbook of regret. Perhaps that's why I found it so hard to listen when approached by a fellow member of the Class of '99 last week, eager to meet the writer behind pieces she had enjoyed since her first year here. "You let me see a life I'd never seen before," she said, and I froze, remembering Anne of Green Gables' first crappy attempt at writing, when she learns the stuff of literary gold is not in her head, but right next door. That's what I did right, at least once, for this woman, and it made me think that my last piece for this paper better do the same. It better fulfill my reporter's promise to look at life objectively and ask why certain things stand as they do, without neglecting another promise, to tell you how they might be set right.

So why then, I ask, is victory bittersweet? According to the June edition of Harper's magazine, "women now make up 56 percent of students at America's colleges and universities," an increase that experts predict by 2007 will have women earning 200,000 more B.A.'s than men. Our class may not be in keeping with the trend yet, but we're gaining.


When we female students graduate, it will be to become members of a growing professional majority--the female majority. Women will make up the bulk of the professional community. But how will that affect us?

The way I see it, things could pan out the way they did when Sally Ride shook things up on the space shuttle. With her bad '80s flyaway and skin-tight jumpsuit, Ride seemed as unlikely a candidate for equal rights crusader as Senator Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.). But just as Thurmond found the wherewithal this year to pat Nelson Mandela's back under a statue of Abraham Lincoln after calling the esteemed South African leader a terrorist thug a few years back, Ride surprised observers, especially those of us in elementary school at the time.

Her "3-2-1 CONTACT" tour of the shuttle began when a smiley, peachy-cheeked Ride made a bee-line for the bathroom. Peeing in space: the timeless stuff of which third grade humor is made, no doubt prompted conjectures amongst Ride's under-age audience at homes across America concerning fluid volume weightlessness. But Ride explained the mechanics well enough that it became evident, even to us minors, that women couldn't use the standard apparatus. But that's all the mothership offered. No ladies room; zero gravity. Not known for cliffhangers, "3-2-1 CONTACT" suddenly had its target demographic, male and female, on the edge of our seats.

Did she hold it for the whole trip? Resort to ziplock? But wait, what was that behind the men's contraption, a white plastic post right next to it but beyond the frame of vision? That was the space-age ladies' room, invented in lieu of ziplocks and because Ride was worth it.

There followed a complete tour of the shuttle, but what stuck was the restroom scene. Perhaps it was because it meant so much to Sally, but most likely it was because the contraption provided an exclusive look at the latest in space technology, and the latest was undoubtedly female.

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