It’s only fitting that today I celebrate two women who influenced my view of the world and a woman’s place in it—Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall.
These two women were my heroes growing up. They defied everything society taught me a woman should be. They were bold, courageous, and smart. They spent their days scrambling through the rainforest wearing khakis, with their hair pulled back into a no-nonsense ponytail. They believed passionately in their work, and Fossey even died for it.
I devoured every article about them in National Geographic and International Wildlife magazines. I watched every documentary on their work. I wanted to grow up just like them.
They taught me the value of patience. They taught me to sit still and observe. Watching how they studied apes, I learned to leave the butterfly net and jam jars at home—I could learn more by joining my subjects in their world than by bringing them into mine.
And when, as a teen-ager on a job shadow day, I was told by a burly wildlife manager, “We don’t like girls,” Fossey and Goodall were standing behind me. “Ha! I’d like to see him try to stop you! Hold your ground, girl!”
I know I am not alone. I am not the only girl who has taken strength from the women who have gone before them. I am not the only girl who might have caved in to dismissive career counsellors and teachers, to the stereotypes they saw on TV every day, to the expectation that even a ‘tomboy’ would eventually grow up into a ‘real’ girl. A generation of girls watched Fossey and Goodall and took notes.
I never did study big mammals like I wanted to, but not because of my gender—I found my skills and interests ultimately led me elsewhere. But Fossey and Goodall are still my heroes.
Thank you, ladies. For your groundbreaking research, and for being you. You have made a difference in more lives than you know.