Following in the footsteps of Athena

By Vanessa Kamberis, Research Associate, HALC

Congresswoman Cheri Bustos and Ms. Perri l. Irmer participating in a panel discussion moderated by Mrs. Sofia Konstantinou at HALC’s Athena Initiative event.

Greek mythology teaches that Athena was a goddess of strength, grace, beauty, and wisdom. When thinking of Greece, most picture the Parthenon, the still standing wonder of the ancient world that was dedicated to Athena. Athena’s significance is also noted in two of the foundational texts of Western civilization, the Iliad and the Odyssey. In Homer’s masterpieces Athena was a more central character than anyone else. She was the one that calmed Achilles and kept him from killing Agamemnon. She was the one that tricked Hector into fighting Achilles. She inspired Odysseus to build the Trojan Horse and helped him again and again in his odyssey back to Ithaca. Overall, the Goddess Athena teaches us to stand up for virtuous causes and be noble while fighting for what we believe in.

HALC’s Athena Initiative event this week echoed just that. The event focused on the role of women in public life and the obstacles they often face working in fields traditionally dominated by men. During the evening’s panel discussion, guest speakers Congresswoman Bustos and Perri L. Irmer addressed over 70 Greek-American women from a variety of backgrounds, and spoke about breaking stereotypes, community building, the importance of networks and relationships, and speaking out.

Congresswoman Bustos and Ms. Irmer shared their unique experiences working in fields traditionally dominated by men. Since only 20% of the US Congress is made up of women, Congresswoman Bustos explained the importance of women supporting each other to ensure their voices are heard. She also explained the Build the Bench Program, a program she founded in order to give women the skills and resources they need to run for public office.

Ms. Irmer’s diverse background includes working in construction- a field made up of less than 10% women. She explained that it is not enough for women to just sit at the table, they must be comfortable and confident enough to sit at the head of the table. Something she is currently doing as she serves as President and CEO of the DuSable Museum of African American History.

At times like last week, when Senator Kamala Harris was interrupted by her male colleagues while questioning Attorney General Jeff Sessions during a Senate Intelligence committee hearing and when Bill Cosby’s sexual assault trial ended in a mistrial, Athena’s path may feel like its difficult follow. Women should look to Athena as an example so they can be activists and influential voices in their communities.

HALC’s Athena Initiative strives to give Greek American women a platform to excel in public life. Since its inception in 2015, the Athena Initiative has hosted a variety of programming featuring former diplomats and women leaders from around the world, always inspiring women to become civically engaged and exceed stereotypical expectations.

We often hear that “behind every great man is a great woman.” However, that is not the lesson the Athena Initiative seeks to portray. A woman’s place is not behind a man, it is beside or in front.

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