Two days ago Newsweek reported a change in a centuries old custom of Kenya’s Maasai tribe. Like many cultures, the tribe had a coming-of-age ceremony for both men and women. Unfortunately, for the past centuries, the ceremony included genital mutilation for the females of the tribe.
Throughout their history, the traditions of the tribe have influenced every aspect of their living. Now, traditional African communities like this one are accepting alternative ceremonies. The result is that fewer girls are entering into marriage without their personal consent at the age of eleven or twelve and are allowed to remain in school. As one young girl remarked: “I am very happy because I will not be married off at this age. I will now go to school and achieve my dream of becoming a doctor.”
Temple Grandin did not grow up in Africa but graduated from Arizona State University in the United States of America. She escaped a different type of cultural enslavement, however, that of being labeled “different”. Dr. Grandin achieved her dream of earning her doctorate in animal science. Although she did not speak until age four, she is now a world-renowned teacher and speaker, having invented several animal-=handling devices that reduce stress and improve overall health of cattle in the world.
I will pause here to admit that for the vegans in my readership, Dr. Grandin may seem like an unusual subject to begin our series on women inventors. However, the eating of meat provides life for many people, a large number of whom cannot obtain or perhaps eat enough vegetarian meals to substitute the nutrients obtained by eating cattle. Yes there is methane gas produced by beef cattle but it is less than half that produced by dairy cattle. Cattle are ruminants and their practice of grazing actually improves the world’s food availability. While we need to improve our care of the environment and our living practices that affect it, let us save that discussion for later.
Let’s turn our focus back to the females who have changed our world and Dr. Temple Grandin, an accomplished female inventor who lives with autism. Dr. Grandin credits her interest and belief that animals should not be mistreated or placed in situations that result in a lower quality of life to living with the stigma of a diagnosis such as autism. She has designed a number of inventions that use behavioral principles instead of excessive force to help control animals.
“Dr. Grandin’s restraint systems keep animals calm and prevent them from getting hurt and her center-track restraint system is currently used to handle nearly half of all the cattle in North America. She also has designed livestock handling facilities in the United States, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand.” This description is from the website women-inventors.com
She is also a prolific author on the subject of autism. Dr. Grandin is currently a professor of animal sciences at Colorado State University. Her achievements dispel the myth that people who think differently cannot contribute to the world, lead “normal lives” or have anything to offer. Like all of our women inventors in this series, she overcame gender bias as well as other false assumptions to survive and thrive.
We all encounter people who have low expectations for us. Perhaps it is because of our skin color, the shape of our eyes or the size of our nose. What we cannot do is adopt those low expectations or stop trying to accomplish our dreams. It is only by thinking differently that the world moves forward and new inventions arise.
I will close with a favorite quote of mine which comes from a 1980’s era television commercial campaign for Apple computers. Alas it was not written by a woman but by Rob Siltanen; no matter, it is perfect for our discussion about Dr. Temple Grandin. I hope it inspires you to think a little differently today and to give thanks that we are all not carbon copies but unique individuals.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”