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We are increasingly aware of the major impact on our culture that women have always had; how truly heroic they have been, frequently in the most ordinary of circumstances. As of late we can witness a number of memorials, statues and plaques springing up throughout our country to honor the women who helped shape our country and our world, often quietly, sometimes behind the scenes. On the Commonwealth Avenue Mall in Boston, for example, a group of statues sculpted by Meredith Bergmann depict Abigail Adams, Lucy Stone and Phillis Wheatley, three great Bostonians. Bergmann depicts them as having literally climbed down from their pedestals in order that they and their ideas be accessible to passersby. http://www.cityofboston.gov/women/memorial.asp
Our first and foremost women-heroes have got to be our mothers and grandmothers, who literally risked their lives to give birth. From the beginning of the human race, women have been the ones to fiercely protect hearth and home. Their physical stamina in times of famine has always been indispensable to the very survival of humanity and sadly, especially in parts of Africa, we see this still. These qualities eventually became part of the myths surrounding ancient goddesses and deities.
The Hebrew scriptures tell many stories of strong, heroic women: Ruth, Naomi, Susanna, Rebecca, Deborah, Judith, but it was not until Christians began to canonize their saints and martyrs: Mary, Priscilla, Elizabeth, Teresa, Joan of Arc, and hundreds of others, that women entered the scene on a popular level as heroes, people to be emulated and imitated. As secular society supplanted the overriding influence of religion after the French revolution in the eighteenth century, mythic female figures in Russia, England, the U.S. and France became primary symbols for nations. Even so, it seemed that male-heroes in the arts, sports, and the military still dominated.
By the advent of the twentieth century and the popularity of mass media, newly liberated women increasingly found their public voices and earned reputations for heroic virtue. For example, many a suffragette in England and America often suffered unspeakable cruelty and abuse as their non-violent disobedience witnessed to their spines of steel.
The woman-hero as a widely recommended figure came into our cultural and media awareness during World War II with “Rosie the Riveter” and other symbolic characters shown in theaters on film shorts and on posters throughout the workplace. As women replaced men in the factories they were increasingly hailed as citizens who could “do it all” by patriotically keeping the home, the family, and American industry secure. Women like Oprah Winfrey come to mind as modern versions through her deft use of television to deal with difficult matters such as the sexual abuse of boys and young men on two recent shows.
We who coach men need to help them identify their women-heroes, both real and mythic, who have influenced their lives and who have contributed to the positive outcomes they have enjoyed. It has been proven time and again that few men have found and maintained their own heroic virtue without the influence of a strong woman or two. This Mothers’ Day we ought to honor not only moms, but also all women who have made us who we are as men and who have frequently been first to shine the light of virtue onto our paths.