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One Giant Leap for Womankind: Egalitarian Women Making History

On March 08, 2017

Today is the second Wednesday in Women’s History Month as well as International Women’s Day, a global event where we celebrate women’s social, economic, and cultural achievements.

This is the second installment in CBE’s celebratory series: Women’s History Wednesday. In our first installment, Rachel Asproth explored four strategies that patriarchal history has used to erase women. The following three articles by Sarah Rodriguez, a former CBE intern, will profile three subversive egalitarian women who bucked gender expectations to make history. 

In shining a light on these women’s stories, we will defy patriarchy’s attempts to marginalize the historical contributions of women. Instead, we will unashamedly celebrate their courage and persistence.

In 1987, the United States’ Congress passed a resolution that designated March as Women’s History Month.[1] During this month, we remember and celebrate the achievements of awe-inspiring women.

Oftentimes, we celebrate the stories of women of the past, such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Gladys Aylward, or Mother Teresa. This year, however, CBE would like to take a different approach by featuring profiles of living egalitarian women who have become successful in their fields and continue to make an impact upon the world. This week, we will focus on the life and achievements of Shannon Lucid, an egalitarian woman who was part of the first group of women to be accepted into NASA’s astronaut program.

As the daughter of missionaries, Shannon Lucid spent her earliest years in China. After her family returned to America, her father continued to minister as a pastor and evangelist. Therefore, due to the influence of her parent’s ministry work, Shannon said, “I was extremely aware as early as I can remember that I needed to accept Jesus Christ as my savior.”[2]

However, as a young child, Shannon was not initially receptive to the gospel message. Although she enjoyed the beautiful worship music, she would often fall asleep during the church sermon. However, one day, she fell asleep and had a life-changing dream. In this dream, she saw a man standing on a big, green hill and calling out to his children. After waking from this dream, Shannon felt a strong desire to be a child of God and follow God of her own accord. She would continue to follow God even during the most trying times of her life.

Throughout her life, Shannon was constantly reminded that society had limited women’s abilities to carve their own paths. As a young person, Shannon knew that she wanted to become a chemist. When she told a high school teacher about her plans to go to college, Shannon recalls that the teacher chided, “What a huge waste of your parent’s money!”[3]

None of Shannon’s female schoolmates had plans to go to college. In fact, most women were expected to be married or engaged by the time they graduated. Knowing the difficulties of women who defy the expectations of their community, I asked Shannon how she found the courage to go to college and forge a career for herself. She replied matter-of-factly, “Well, I knew that it was what God wanted me to do.”[4]

However, even a college education did little to combat the overwhelming prejudices of society. A few weeks before her graduation, Shannon recalls asking a professor for advice about finding a job. According to Shannon, he looked at her incredulously and said, “What? You’re planning on working?” No one is going to hire you!”[5]

Unfortunately, her professor’s words proved to be true for many years. She finally managed to land a job as an assistant in a lab—however, she was eventually fired for becoming pregnant.

Even after obtaining her PhD, Shannon spent many years looking for a job. The norms of society were actively working against her—for instance, when a job did appear, she missed it, because while employers were no longer legally allowed to exclude women from jobs, a particular employer had placed a job advertisement in the housing section of a newspaper, where women were not likely to look.

However, Shannon’s big break finally came when she joined NASA as part of the first class of astronauts that included women. During her years at NASA, most of her time was spent on the ground working with safety technicians and other specialists. However, she was lucky enough to make five trips into space, one of which lasted six months. Over the course of her five space trips, she launched satellites and a probe to Jupiter named Galileo and performed life science experiments.

While she was with NASA, Shannon felt pressured to show that women were just as competent astronauts as men. She had a strong desire to see other women follow behind her as fellow female astronauts.

Throughout her lifetime, Shannon has seen a remarkable shift in societal expectations for women. In fact, Shannon told me an anecdote that demonstrated how much society has progressed during her lifetime: “One of my daughter’s neighbors had a daughter who was not doing well in science—and the mother said, ‘well, if a woman can’t do science, then there’s nothing left for her!’” How the times have changed, indeed!

As Shannon worked hard to defy societal norms in the workplace, she found that her faith naturally aligned with her personal convictions about the fundamental equality of men and women. Shannon was raised in a patriarchal church that strongly discouraged women from having careers, as they taught that women were supposed to take care of homes and children. But Shannon knew that she wanted a career. She decided that she would have to compromise with the patriarchal views of her church: “I decided that [a career] wasn’t too much of a sin if I didn’t get married.”[6]

Fortunately, Shannon’s future husband, Mike, criticized her compromise and adamantly asserted that the patriarchal views of her former church were completely unbiblical. As the years passed, Shannon became less swayed by the assertions of her former church. Finally, Shannon became a full-fledged Christian egalitarian when she found CBE through one of its publications. Through her many achievements, Shannon has been a strong advocate for women in both Christian and secular workplaces.

Shannon is now retired, having left her work in order to take care of her husband, Mike, who had dementia. After his death on Christmas Day, 2014, she has been writing a book for her family that recounts her experience caring for someone with dementia. Shannon also spends her time visiting with her nine grandchildren.

Notes

[1] “Women’s History Month: About.” Women’s History Month. N.D. 29 August 2016. http://womenshistorymonth.gov/about.html.
[2] Shannon Lucid, interview by Sarah Rodriguez, August 28, 2016.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

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