what if girls were rewarded for being authentic instead of being thin?
Stop the presses. Kim Kardashian lost the baby weight and has her hot body back!
Give a typical teenage girl the choice between learning about Kim’s dramatic weight loss, or the new female CEO of General Motors, I think I know which story she would pick.
Girls aren’t stupid. They know what’s relevant to how they themselves get judged everyday. Mary Barra’s rise to power is all very well, but does she look good in a bikini?
There’s an anecdote that another female corporate giant, Sheryl Sandberg, likes to tell. She was doing a Q+A with Facebook employees and informed them that she would take two more questions.
Later, a young woman informed her: “After you took those two final questions, I put my hand down and all the other women put their hands down. A bunch of men kept their hands up and then you took more questions.”
Sandberg admits that she hadn’t even noticed.*
Sandberg reminds me of a teacher in a classroom who favors the boys without realizing. Boys feel entitled to the teacher’s attention. They call out the answers. They raise their hands even when they’re wrong because they know the teacher will correct them and they will learn the answer anyway. The girls raise their hands only when they are one hundred percent convinced that their answer is the right answer. For them, there is no room for error. The risk of social humiliation – the deep brutal wrongness of being wrong – is too great.**
But this isn’t just an issue of who raises their hand – or leans in – and who doesn’t.
Recognition is power.
Recognition is currency.
Recognition is a limited resource.
When you translate recognition into those kinds of terms – power and wealth –- you see the real lesson in the classroom (unless the teacher makes a conscious, concerted effort to call on boys and girls equally).
The boys scramble for power – and are rewarded.
The girls keep quiet – because they don’t want to speak out of turn (and be considered rude or obnoxious), because they don’t want to be wrong (and therefore less than perfect), because they don’t want to compete with the boys (and risk not being liked or desired).
Good girls don’t chase power.
Power isn’t feminine.
Many of these girls grow into women who equate being quiet and small, being polite — being good — with being safe. But if this was true, violence against girls and women would not be such a global epidemic. It would only be safe to be powerless if the powerless were always protected.
And if keeping yourself small was the essence of femininity, if turning away from power was a natural feminine state, the constant online conversation about women’s desire to play a bigger game wouldn’t exist.
What if we could offer girls a version of femininity that allowed them to be just as outspoken as they wanted to be – as outspoken as any boy? That celebrated their messy, glorious, imperfect selves? That rewarded them for being bold, for playing big, for taking risks, for making mistakes, for coloring outside the lines, for living off the very edge of their comfort zone – and expanding it?
What if being feminine meant being entitled to pleasure, to appetite, to sexual satisfaction?
What if it meant choosing instead of being chosen?
What if popular culture rewarded girls and women for being authentic instead of being thin?
What if the appointment of a female CEO happened often enough that the ‘female’ part was no longer considered newsworthy?
If we allowed feminine to be synonymous with badass – so that you wouldn’t have to single out a woman for being a ‘strong woman’ (implying that the average woman is not) or a ‘powerful woman’ (implying that the average woman is not) — so that a woman like me would never think of writing a blog post like this – what would happen?
Would power reinvent women?
Or would women reinvent power?
* see the book KNOWING YOUR VALUE by Mika Brezezinski
** see the book SCHOOLGIRLS by Peggy Orenstein