How often are you radical enough to provide hope?

Today is December 18 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often are you radical enough to provide hope?” People who navigate the chaos know that they may be perceived as radical. There is little they can do to change how people perceive them. But those that navigate the chaos can certainly focus their radicalism on hope rather than despair. Nancy Friday, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Anna Bissell modeled radical behavior that, in turn, provided hope for women.

American author Nancy Colbert Friday wrote on the topics of female sexuality and liberation and in a radical 1973 publication entitled My Secret Garden she placed herself among the feminist erotic pioneers. Her writings argue that women have often been reared under an ideal of womanhood, which was outdated and restrictive, and largely unrepresentative of many women’s true inner lives, and that openness about women’s hidden lives could help free women to truly feel able to enjoy being themselves.


She asserts that this is not due to deliberate malice, but due to social expectation, and that for women’s and men’s benefit alike it is healthier that both be able to be equally open, participatory and free to be accepted for who and what they are. Friday has explained how “in the late 1960s I chose to write about women’s sexual fantasies because the subject was unbroken ground, a missing piece of the puzzle at a time in history when the world was suddenly curious about sex and women’s sexuality.” The backdrop was a widespread belief that “women do not have sexual fantasies are by and large destitute of sexual fantasy.”


Friday considered that “more than any other emotion, guilt determined the story lines of the fantasies in My Secret Garden . . . women inventing ploys to get past their fear that wanting to reach orgasm made them Bad Girls.”


Anita Gates authored The New York Times obituary for Friday on November 5, 2017 and wrote “In 1973, when the author Caroline Seebohm reviewed Ms. Friday’s first book, My Secret Garden: Women’s Sexual Fantasies, for The New York Times, she joked about just what kind of ‘dirty book’ it was and playfully reassured readers that despite the author’s findings, ‘men are still indispensable.’ The book’s shocking premise was that women had erotic thoughts. Ms. Friday, however, who based the book on hundreds of interviews, said those thoughts were accompanied by considerable guilt and secrecy. The book was an immediate best seller.”


Welsh academic, novelist, and critic Raymond Henry Williams wrote “To be truly radical is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing” When it came to discussing women’s sexuality, Friday made hope possible. As Ginia Bellafante wrote in The New York Times, “For better or worse, Ms. Friday helped to create a confessional feminism. It was a philosophy reliant on the assemblage of personal anecdote that held women’s self-therapy as its overriding goal.” Elizabeth Blackwell and Anna Bissell were two other women that were radical enough in their time to provide hope.


Blackwell was initially uninterested in a career in medicine especially after her schoolteacher brought in a bull's eye to use as a teaching tool. Therefore, she became a schoolteacher to support her family. This occupation was common for women during the 1800s; however, she soon found it unsuitable for her. Blackwell's interest in medicine was sparked after a friend fell ill and remarked that, had a female doctor cared for her, she might not have suffered so much. Blackwell began applying to medical schools and immediately began to endure the prejudice against her sex that would persist throughout her career.


She was rejected from each medical school she applied to, except Geneva Medical College, in which the male students voted on Blackwell's acceptance. In 1847, Blackwell became the first woman to attend medical school in the United States and, thus, the first woman in America to receive a medical degree. She went on to help found the New York Infirmary for Women and Children and eventually became a professor at the London School of Medicine for Women.


Although it was her husband who invented the carpet-sweeping machine in 1876 and founded Bissell, Anna Bissell became the CEO of the company in 1889, making her the first female CEO in America. After her husband’s death, and left to raise five children, Anna was the one who took the sweepers to the next level with aggressive marketing. She traveled around the country selling sweepers and making deals with major retailers to carry the Bissell brand. Eventually, she took the brand international. She was also one of the first company heads to give workers pension plans and workers’ compensation.


Friday, Blackwell, and Bissell were all radical enough to provide hope. Are you?