Yesterday news broke that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer. My Facebook news feed was filled with posts from lesbian friends about Ride's passing—why? Because Ride was (a) lesbian.
Yes America, your first female astronaut was (a) lesbian.
(This lesbian knows how to ride....)
"Brilliant!," I thought, "Once again, we've one-upped the straight world!"
So, I read on—Ride made two flights into space; was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003; and founded Sally Ride Science, a company aimed at encouraging science-oriented education for elementary and middle school communities.
But then I came upon the greatest Sally Ride factoid of them all:
Sally Ride was an English major—receiving a dual degree in Physics and English from Stanford University in 1977.
Forget her lesbianism; her "hidden" humanities past is the most interesting disclosure I've dug up from all these obits.
Why? Because in this particular moment in U.S. history the humanities—and learning in general—has never received so much scorn, so much condemnation, and so much dismissal as "irrelevant." Ride's humanist training undoubtedly made her into the accomplished woman that she became; her training in English literature provided her with the critical and analytical tools for her outer space endeavors. The humanities fostered and bred her creative mind, which she then turned into real life adventure.
Ride's career is not only a sign that, yes, we lesbians are amazing, but that, more important, the humanities are essential to every facet of our lives. Without learning to think critically we are unable to move beyond our current knowledge, whether that knowledge base is in the sciences, in business or the arts.
So, go ahead, girls, the sciences and maths are for you...just don't forget the fields—those of literature and the arts—that enable you to think, write, and communicate critically and effectively.