"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." —G.D. Anderson
I have been reading all of these powerful messages from women in response to yet another MeToo moment. At the same time, this is both disheartening and uplifting. Disheartening because more heart-breaking stories of men/boys not respecting the person/space/rights of a girl/woman. Uplifting because of the unbelievable bravery of these same women stepping forward and breaking their silence, pointing a finger, and making these men take responsibility for their poor behavior. Disheartening because already we have heard too many stories. Uplifting because I can only hope that the more we share, the more we listen, the more we will help our girls of today grow up knowing what they can do and say for themselves.
What can we do to help these girls, these women speak up for themselves? What can we do to stop others – people in positions of power, in positions of authority, stronger or bigger – from pushing their will on those who are smaller, newer, younger? What can I do to facilitate change as a mom, as a friend, as one who jnteracts regularly with young men and women?
I am not saying that all men are bad. I am not saying that all women are weak. What I am saying, though, is that the skills to say ‘no’, and ‘it is not okay’, and ‘enough’ are not skills we as a gender are encouraged to develop. In a hundred subtle, varied ways we are encouraged to be accommodating, and to appease. We are taught and encouraged to not be contrary and to build others up, even at our own expense. We are encouraged to be feminine, to be soft and vulnerable.
We women are the Gentle Species. We are taught to be compassionate. From infancy, women are socialized to be more emotional, more sympathetic and compassionate. We are encouraged to display nurturing and caring while boys are encouraged to be daring and athletic (dolls versus superheroes, you know). We are allowed to cry. In these lessons, we learn to be more in tune with the emotions of others, as well, and care about the impact that our actions and words might have on the emotional state of others.
It’s not to say that men are not all of those things. But remember, they grow up hearing very different encouragements that we do. They hear that they need to be tough, and they need to be strong. They need to develop their patriarchal skills; they will, after all, head up the family, right? The lost message is this: you can be all of those things, and still be compassionate, empathetic and caring. You can still be tough and make sure no one is left behind. You can be both the head of the family and let your partner in life lead the way as well. Co-chairs, if you will.
It’s not Us versus Them. Believing in women, believing that they, too, have the right to their own space, their own beliefs, their own opinions. No, of course, they are not the same, but that doesn’t make one superior; neither has inherent rights over the other. Just as there are bad men in the world, there are bad women. Women can be just as hurtful and harmful as men can be. I’m not sure why, but sadly, the Mean Girl stereotype exists for a reason.
I am a mom of three boys. I strive to show them that being a woman is to be one who is capable, strong, and compassionate. I want these boys to be positive role models for other boys. I want them to treat girls and women with respect and dignity. I want them to listen actively and hear the words girls (and women) say, and even those they don’t. I want to help their friends to understand this too. I know my boys have amazing hearts; they just have to always use them. I try to teach the young girls I interact with that what they say matters, what they think is important, and their space is only their space … unless they say otherwise. I want my boys to know the soft and vulnerable side of a female, and also the fierce side that speaks out I the face of injustice and protects those less physically strong.
Just because one is larger does not make them great. Just because one’s voice is loud does not make them important. Just because one is smaller does not make them weak. Just because one is pushed doesn’t mean they can’t push back. Sadly, one can be thoughtless regardless of one’s gender, age, or size. Know this, my friends: Our collective impact is so much greater; helping others, reaching out to others, lightening the load of others – regardless of their gender – is how we are all going to make it to the top.