Thursday, June 13, 2013

Girl Power

I start 30-40% of my mornings by getting up before the kids, having a cup of coffee, and reading CNN online.

[During the other 70%, I am jumped on by children and dogs or drink the aforementioned coffee like a sleep deprived sloth while sitting on the porch.]

One of the sections on CNN that I frequent is called Girl Rising. This area of boasts that it documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world.

I love that this area of CNN exists. I am happy that attention is being given to the pursuit of equality for women of all ages in all locations and all socioeconomic climates. I am thrilled that the message of Gloria Steinham is being continuously explored and reinterpreted by everyone from Christiane Amanpour to Michelle Obama to Sheryl Sandberg.

But, with education and progress come a set of fresh rules; a new arena is created in which everyone needs to learn how to do battle. With every step forward we take, we need to look backwards and make sure that we are adjusting our expectations. We need to be honest with ourselves about the demands that those expectations place on the shoulders of our daughters.

In my most-clicked blog to date, I speak to a frustration I have with my husband. But, on a deeper lever, what I allude to is the fact that I as a woman and mother and (at that time) player in the work force, feel personally burdened by the need to project an image that I can do it all. I can achieve the highest accomplishments at work. I can be the very best mother at home. I can be the most doting wife. The most creative chef. The comic. The therapist. The musician. The writer. The athlete.

If the world I live in affords me the ability to do all of these things, then isn’t it incumbent on me to do them? To do them perfectly?

This is the pressure I fear for my daughter.

It is consequently the pressure I want to protect her from.
I don’t want Zoe to feel that if she needs help-if she wants help-she is weak.

I want to protect her from the misconception that I had, that to be a great woman--a strong one, a liberated one-- you have to do it all.

For some reason, it took me 34 years to realize that I can’t do it all.
No one can.

No man.
No woman.
Can do everything.
Because we are human.
And in that humanity is the secret to gender equality.

What our feminist leaders are trying to relate to us is that equality is a tough problem to solve. It’s a tough problem to solve because you need to start with an understanding of the fact that everyone is different. You need to understand that different does not mean not equal. It does, however, mean unlike in characteristics.

What we as women should be fighting for--for ourselves, our daughters, and, yes, our sons too-- is to be given equal chances. Fair shots; quality of opportunity.

And those daughters and sons alike should feel that they have breathing room to seize those opportunities. Or not.

I’m not painting a Candy Land world with rainbows and blue birds; what I am suggesting is that we should think about not thinking about it so much.

What I want is for Zoe to grow up confident that she can do anything that she wants. Say anything she wants.

To speak her heart.

To know that she doesn’t have to meet a standard simply because the standard exists.

Sure, I want her to pursue excellence. But, I want her to pursue excellence in the place where she wants and not necessarily in the place that the feminist movement dictates.

All gifts carry with them burdens.

I want my tenacious little girl to know that pressure is everywhere; to know how to navigate situations that are going to throw challenges her way. 

I want my baby to know that she can achieve not because she is a woman; she can achieve because she is Zoe.


Carol said...

First, as a woman who lived through those turbulent early years of feminism, I am standing and cheering that young women today still care. Are still thinking about it. Struggling with the concept and what it means. Because, you see, that is what we fought for - the ability to think - to have a choice - to make a choice - to have a seat at the table (if you want it) and excuse yourself if you don't.

What so many women who say, "I'm not a feminist but..." don't understand is that feminism is not an albatross to hang around your neck. It is NOT about doing it all or living up to some outrageous standard of a superwoman but rather about the ability to have the freedom to choose what you want. And when the choice is made, the opportunity to go for it in a society that acknowledges that fundamental right. It is not women's rights - it is human rights. And, guess what? Women are human!

Yes, Zoe, you will grow up in a world that allows you to have a voice and takes that voice seriously. Your grandmothers struggled to make that happen. And your mother ensures that it will continue. We must, as women, put ourselves on the list of people we show compassion to. We must not expect more of ourselves than we expect of others. And we must work to ensure that we live in a global community that ensures that fundamental respect.

Yes, I am a feminist. No buts about it!

Anonymous said...

Do you know of the Stephanie Becker Fund? I think your comments speak to their mission, especially in this paragraph, "If the world I live in affords me the ability to do all of these things, then isn’t it incumbent on me to do them? To do them perfectly? This is the pressure I fear for my daughter. It is consequently the pressure I want to protect her from. I don’t want Zoe to feel that if she needs help-if she wants help-she is weak. I want to protect her from the misconception that I had, that to be a great woman--a strong one, a liberated one-- you have to do it all." Well said, Sara, very, very well said! --Rose

Greer Ross said...

Very well said by and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

MamaZee said...

Mom (Carol) and Rose. Thank you for your feedback and comments. I learned from the best-you are two of the strongest women I know.

Greer Ross said...

Very well said by and the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!

MamaZee said...

Thank you Greer! So glad that my apples fall close to you ;)

Lisa said...

I'm going to post an email that I wrote in response to someone who forwarded me the popular Anne Marie Slaughter article that circulate last year. It was an email - and not a formal one so please excuse the typos, informality, etc. :)

Here is the original article:

Here was my email response to the person who forwarded it to me (written last summer):

So here is my take. And be warned, this is an issue I've considered, mulled over, experienced, and wrestled with for five years now. therefore the following response is long winded and unnecessary but...well, so is most things that i say

The knee-jerk reaction is to read this article with frustration. To read this article and think, "dammit, we CAN have it all. isn't that what we've been taught? promised? assured?"

and what I've found? sure, we can...technically...but it depends on our definition of "all". If all is simply having, or being in possession of, a family and successful career - then yes, by design we can have simply that. but a certain quality of life question comes into play - what are we sacrificing to have this perceived "all"? And to what end is this "all" good on all of its levels? example - I know that if I go head deep in my career that Kayla's care, life, and sense of her mother would suffer. or if I go all in on being the best possible mom - there's not a chance I'd ever advance in my career. and let's not even throw in the responsibility of being a good partner, wife, and maintaining my home for my own sanity and contentment. so, the picture of "all" in my life would be just that - a pretty picture, but it wouldn't be a quality "all"...for any part of it, on any level. as it turns out, we must actually pick and choose the parts of "all" that gets the quality treatment...

It turns out the "all" I was raised to believe I can have is a concept...and the reality of it falls quite short. And, to compound all of this, I realized I don't want it "all." I want quality over quantity. I want to stay home and cuddle my kid when she's sick...I want to be there on her first day of kindergarten (which will mean taking a personal day and abandoning my students on their first day - which will not be looked at lightly in my professional realm) the same time, I do want to be good at my job, but I realize the paradox is that being my best means being a less than stellar mom (like skipping the first day send-off and being present with my students on day one). "All" turns out to be, ironically, a lose-lose concept.

Then there's the root of all of this...these lines: “There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive. Trying to have it all as a woman - a career and family - comes with immense pressure, question and guilt. a mommy blogger I adore posted this on the topic...much less dense, but hits the nail on its proverbial head....there's no right answer for women....

The pressure of the "have it all" mentality is mounting for my generation ... And frankly I just don't get it. I don't want it all. And we are, as a society, often throwing the true feelings/picture of working motherhood under the rug to make a point. We don't talk about the stresses, the demands, the realities....We talk about possibility and growth...but at what price? So a generation of mothers can suffer silently? That's hardly what our grandparents' generation struggled to obtain for us.

so in my opinion? "all" is an ugly concept that has become a new measure of a woman's worth....and i've decided over five years of being a mother that I don't want it all....i want parts of the all and i want to make those particular parts kick ass.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting how much having children revitalized my feminism, made it personal instead of theoretical. Have you found that also? I suppose that I didn't feel particularly oppressed as a woman until I became a mother and saw the various ways that institutions failed to support me in my new role. To me, feminism does not mean Equality, per se. It means Equality of Choice. For both genders.

I am saddened that people and news media spend so much time debating mothers and mothering, as if there is only one way to do it "right." Is this a new thing? Am I simply more aware of it now that I myself am a mother? The judgment heaped upon women for their parenting choices--even the choice NOT to be a parent--is wildly unfair, and some of the harshest judges seem to be other women. I don't care if you work or stay at home, if you nurse or use formula, if you co-sleep or Ferberize, if you feed your child only organic foods or need some help from Chef Boyardee. Motherhood is hard. Each woman has her own set of challenges to overcome, her own balancing act to work out. If I have learned anything from being a mom, it's to be generous with other women.

Nowadays when I hear that superior voice in my head pointing out some grave flaw a mom is making, I am learning to tell it to shut up. I cannot express how much it has meant to me when my child was tantruming or otherwise behaving poorly in public and some sympathetic stranger has told me, "Two is such a hard age," or "They grow out of it, I promise," or "Poor mama, you need a break!" I would like to pay it forward, to spread Mommy Kindness and not Mommy Judgment. I wish people would stop doing provocative studies on stay-at-home versus working mothers (why pit mothers against each other?!) and focus on practical issues like affordable child care and extended maternity/paternity leaves.

I don't delude myself into thinking my daughter will grow up in a world free of judgment. But I hope she will have a strong enough sense of self to ignore the negative messages, to surround herself with positive people when possible, and to ultimately feel happy with her choices. We can probably teach this best by living it. And I think you already are! -Hester

Michele said...

I totally agree with you, Hester. I think that there are so many other issues (such as paternity/maternity leave, childcare, education, etc.) that need more attention in our media than these debates about the "right" way to raise children. Living in Europe I realize how more focus on these more salient issues really helps parents (and therefore their children.)

Carol said...

What thoughtful comments! Clearly this is an issue that strikes a chord, and why not? We all struggle with it. As I mentioned in my earlier comment in this thread, feminism is not an albatross of outrageous responsibility and unattainable goals but rather the freedom to make choices. To make those choices in a society - both local and global - that celebrates and supports women as they choose.

Lisa, you are quite right when you say that excelling in one area must mean doing less than excellent in another. Of course you are right. How could it be otherwise? We are not bionic.

Women who do seem to excel in all areas often (sadly) do so on the backs of other hired women - typically paid minimum wage and without benefits - who run their homes, run their errands, and shuttle their children. There was an interesting cover article about such a thing in the New York Times Magazine last spring.

Lisa, you stated: "That's hardly what our grandparents' generation struggled to obtain for us."
As a woman about to turn 57, I am one of those woman who struggled. Not quite your grandparents generation but close enough. I attended an all women's strongly feminist college in NYC during those turbulent early years of feminism in the 1970's. We were outraged and struggled hard to have our voices be heard. And, with all new things, there were misinterpretations and miscommunications. Much has been achieved. Our society is currently one that thrives on "busyness" - are we ever not multitasking? And this has infiltrated the concept of feminism and it should not.

You are right, Michelle, that the USA is outrageously primitive in its support of parenting - not just mothering. Why? Because women are not heard or appropriately represented.

So, again, as that "older woman" in this thread I implore you: continue the struggle, demand (yes, demand) that your voices be heard. Clearly state what is appropriate and what is outrageous. Know the difference. And understand that is, in fact, what feminism is all about.

MamaZee said...

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments and feedback. It strikes a chord in all of us, I know.

Take a moment to read the following response written by a former student. She's got important things to say!

There has been an increased focus on women’s rights by various campaigns that have given a platform for anonymous girls across developing nations who fight for education. In Girl Rising, each girl was paired with writers from their native countries to tell their stories narrated by well-known actors, such as Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway. The film says, “In spite of the fact that educating a girl is one of the highest return investments available in the developing world, there are 66 million girls out of school.” In most countries, girls are continuously being treated of lesser value than boys. Parents decide to send off their sons to schools instead of their daughters.
From the moment a girl is born in Afghanistan, she is treated as worthless. Amina wasn’t given a birth certificate because she was born a girl. Her life was filled with burdens, yet, she still felt blessed to have been given the opportunity to learn basic writing before she was married off at 11 years old. She was one of the “lucky” ones.
Her parents arranged her marriage in exchange for 5,000 dollars so that they can buy a used car for her brother. She gave birth to a son and she was one of the “lucky” ones to have had no complications because more women die giving birth in Afghanistan than anywhere else in the world.
Young girls are being stoned, beaten, gassed, poisoned, and murdered for wanting to learn. Amina vows to continue her education one day. She knows of a prosperous past that Afghan women once lived in. She is smart. She is fearless.
I once accepted double standards as an Arab girl. Being exposed to the ignorance of hardheaded Lebanese men in my culture influenced me in becoming a feminist, to the point where I hate that there needs to be a word dubbed for defending my rights as a woman. As first-generation American, I was given the opportunity to express myself and the leniency to achieve my goals.
My grandmother was forced into a marriage at the age of sixteen (it happened to Christians too). She only had four years of education before she had to drop out. She says to me, “You have to go to school. Education is important. You understand?” She still randomly mentions it to me.
I feel it’s my duty as a woman to make sure none of us are held back. I want to be the voice for the silenced. I want to cheer on the anonymous heroes out there risking their lives to be the change we wish to see.