On Jan. 4, Nancy Pelosi was sworn in as Speaker of the House. On Feb. 8, Anna Nicole Smith died. Maybe it was just a slow news day, but I distinctly remember hearing more from the press about Smith than I did about Pelosi (I am not saying Pelosi wasn’t covered; she was, but Smith was the top story for the next, say, week. And the news coverage still continues on). Now, I understand that everyone loves a scandal, and there is, of course, a fascination with celebrities, but I am also left wondering if it reflects on our perception of women. I mean, what are the kind of things for which a woman can be remembered?

Individually, a lot – we can be remembered as someone’s mother, someone’s daughter or someone’s best friend. But culturally, it does not seem acceptable to me that if you’re a one-time model/pseudo-celebrity you might get more press than being the first female Speaker of the House.

I feel this goes back a while. For instance, when asking people about first ladies (under the presumption that a first lady is a relatively well known female figure), I believe Jackie Kennedy is the most famous (I’ll interject again that I, too, think she is great. This is nothing against Jackie O). We don’t mention that Edith Wilson may have secretly run the White House or that Dolly Madison saved important historical relics from being burned – we remember that Jackie redecorated the White House.

This might not just be a gender thing. I, for one, remember James Buchanan sheerly as the only unmarried president. But whether it is limited to women or not, can anyone offer a real reason why, with all the marvelous accomplishments of women today, we still insist on focusing only on those people who haven’t really done much?

On the same day that Anna Nicole Smith died, Florence Melton, an American inventor, also passed away, but she didn’t make the news. Around the same time, many female politicians and civil rights activists also died, but there weren’t news stories about them.

Despite the fact that I remember James Buchanan was a bachelor – and not anything that he did in his term – there is a part of me that feels that this is strictly a female problem. It’s just that all the things that make a woman memorable seem to be based on the wrong thing. There was the trend in the Academy Awards that women who “uglified” themselves for the role were the ones who won Best Actress, placing the attention on the actresses’ looks as opposed to their performances.

It is beginning to seem that we as Americans are more aware of Nicole Richie’s weight and Britney Spears’s shaved head than have any type of knowledge of what they are doing with their “careers.” When we think of female literary figures such as Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, the first thing anyone will point out is that they committed suicide, but so did Ernest Hemingway, and he gets at least some discussion of his work before the jump to his alcoholism.

I’m sure these women wish you’d remember them for taking on a serious acting role or writing an earth-shattering book rather than for their physical attractiveness or their personal lives.

Since most of us want to leave our mark on the world, it really makes me think. I am not encouraging anyone to become a Playmate whose life is full of scandals – although, apparently, you will get a lot of press that way. Rather, I hope we can somehow change our mindset so that, from now on, we can focus on people who did something really newsworthy – people who made history – and not those whose lives were the most scandal-worthy. In that way, maybe we all could be remembered.

Frank is a member of the class of 2009.



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