Friday, December 5, 2008

We Are Women . . . Where's Our Roar?

Regular readers of my little corner of the blogosphere may remember my stories about Emily, my little baby speech kid who is just struggling with the wealth of cultural knowledge she just doesn't possess. Yesterday, Emily prepped a speech with me that left me with a lot of concerns about our future.

Emily was given the following Marilyn Monroe quote from which to prep her speech: "I don't mind living in a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it." I love this quote because, to me, it talks about that dichotomy a lot of women face -- we are expected to be tough and competitive on the job but we want to retain our femininity. At least, that's how *I* interpret this quote.

Emily saw it much differently.

She stood up there and proceeded to give a speech about the dependence that men and women have on each other -- how men NEED women and women NEED men. She pointed out that women need men around to lift heavy things for them, and men need women to cook their meals. The more she spoke, the more I had to struggle to contain my own righteous indignation as well as my sudden need to burst into tears.

First of all, as a single, independent woman who does consider herself a feminist, I was horrified to hear this sexist propaganda escaping this girl's mouth. I don't need anyone to do my heavy lifting (okay, yeah, sometimes I do, but 90% of that time, that person is my SISTER) nor do I feel a great need to cook whenever I see a man. Would I like to have a relationship with a man that's not reminiscent of Will and Grace? Sure. Do I NEED such a relationship to feel happy and fulfilled with my life? Certainly not.

Secondly, it's depressing to think that this sort of thinking still exists in a world where women have made so many gains. In the same year where we saw Hillary Clinton nearly become the Democratic nominee for President and subsequently become Secretary of State, where we see women like Tina Fey making news for proving you can be smart and funny and a woman, we still have girls believing that they are nothing without men. It's this sort of co-dependent thinking that gets them pregnant at 15, that lets their boyfriends slap them around, that encourages them to make the sorts of bad choices that destroy their potential each and every day, the sort of bad choices I have to witness each and every day.

I find (a little) comfort in knowing girls like Emily are not the only girls out there, by reminding myself of the smart and indepdendent girls I work with every day. Girls like Rachel (the Super AD) whose face was bright red with anger by the time Emily was done speaking or Katrina who, despite being one of the most beautiful girls in the school, takes pride in the fact that she's never been kissed or Harper who was furious with me for not voting for Hillary because, as she said, "It's our chance!" For those girls AND the girls like Emily or Susannah (who is never seen without a boyfriend at her side as she walks down the halls), I feel the pressure of being the role model they need, showing them that women can do anything -- with or without a man. I want to encourage these girls to find their power and strength and to stand on that mountaintop or rooftop or just in front of a classroom and roar .


Jen said...

Oy vey. We can only hope that Emily's worldview won't remain static as she grows up. (For example, I can't think of one tattoo I would have gotten at age 15 that I wouldn't be desperate to have lasered off now.) It is depressing that that attitude is still out there, but I think it is telling that it seems to flourish only in the company of ignorance. And no, that isn't particularly encouraging either, but that's where wonderful educators like you come in. If she sticks with speech she is going to have to do some thinking about what she believes, whether she wants to or not.

Danielle Mari said...

Take heart in the fact that poor, misguided Emily finds herself outnumbered by the Rachels. At least that's so in my teaching experience- isn't it in yours? I do have to fight the rising bile when I see young women in my class room idolizing Paris Hilton and her tanned, stupid, rich, and high crew of "party gals." Yes, Jen. Oy vey.

But that they have women like Hillary Clinton, Tina Fey, India Arie, Kelly Clarkson... the list goes on... the fact that the list of admirable women outnumbers the list of idiotic celebrity chicks should give us enough optimism to get through Emily's speech with patience and give you the strength I know you have to put her on a more rewarding path. She's lucky to have you. "That's hot."