Women’s History Month: a Reflection from Elaine Nogueira-Godsey

Words of inspiration and vision from the Assistant Professor of Religion and Society

Women’s History Month holds a deep and personal significance, a reminder of the complex interplay between gender, race, and personal identity that has shaped my trajectory. Growing up in a traditional Christian community in rural Brazil, post-military dictatorship, I was fed a patriarchal vision of womanhood. I was taught that fulfilling certain prescribed female gender roles was all that I needed to do to please God and consequently have a happy life. Yet, this formula fell short for me. I was a thinker, a dreamer, unwilling to be boxed into predefined gender roles. I yearned for the freedom to chart my own course. I wanted to be an ordained religious leader and to delve into the realms of theological scholarship. For the longest time, ordination was a closed door for women in my tradition, a constant reminder of the docile traits that I should instead seek. What to do with my life as a girl became an existential problem. I used to ask why God created me with intellectual needs if I was not supposed to think for myself, or with leadership skills if I could only go as far as to become a supportive pastor’s wife and accept this role as fulfillment for life. However, I liked being a girl too much to start hating my own sex, and I decided to go to a theological seminary anyway, even though it was a predominantly male thing to do. This decision has since empowered me to craft my own journey to redefining women’s roles within both religious contexts and society at large. My story mirrors the broader struggle of women throughout history who have fought to carve out spaces for their talents in a world that often sought to confine them to narrow roles.

My reflection on Women’s History Month is further enriched by my family’s unspoken indigenous heritage. The silence surrounding my maternal grandfather’s indigenous roots, likely from the Kaiowá people, reflects the broader marginalization of indigenous peoples in Brazilian society. This aspect of my identity has led me to contemplate the intersections of gender and racial indigeneity, even before I had the terminology to articulate these concepts. This month challenges us to recognize how gender and race intersect, shaping the experiences and opportunities available to women of diverse backgrounds. It is a call to action, urging us to continue the work of those who came before us in fighting for a world where every woman can pursue their dreams without constraint. We celebrate trailblazers like Sonia Maria Sotomayor and Ellen Ochoa, women whose resilience has paved the way for future generations. In 2009, Sotomayor became the first Latina and the third woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court in the country. Sotomayor was born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents and was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age seven. As a Supreme Court Justice, she has ruled to uphold the Affordable Care Act and legalize same-sex marriage. Ellen Ochoa became the first Latina to go to space in 1993 when she flew aboard the space shuttle Discovery. She won numerous awards during her career and was inducted into the California Hall of Fame and the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame. In 2013, she became the first Latina and second female director of the Johnson Space Center.[1] Sotomayor and Ochoa’s stories are not just ones of personal triumph but also beacons of hope and inspiration for women and girls everywhere, particularly those from marginalized communities, showing that barriers can be broken and dreams can be achieved.

This month invites us to reflect on the contributions of women throughout history. But it is also a time to commit ourselves to the ongoing struggle for gender equality, recognizing that our efforts today will shape the opportunities available to the women of tomorrow. In reflecting on Women’s History Month, I am reminded of the power of storytelling and the importance of lifting up the voices of women from all walks of life. It is a time to honor the past, celebrate the present, and forge a future where every woman can write their own story, free from the constraints of prescribed roles and societal expectations.

[1] For more information, see https://www.latino.si.edu/learn/teaching-and-learning-resources/latinas-talk-latinas

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