I have two beautiful daughters. They are strong independent young women. Like most women, they struggle some with body image issues and the female version of bullying that is so rampant in our internet/text society. But they are no wilting flowers. They will speak and think and stand up for themselves. I think it is partly because when I came into my own (around the age of 35), I decided to do the same thing. Tired of trying to please everyone, tired of trying to be the dutiful submissive woman, I found my voice.
I have two stories about discrimination against my girls when they were children. One story happened in church, the other in Little League.
When Hilary was in fifth grade, she went to the Kids for Christ competition held in Houston every Easter weekend. Though she did enter traditional girl events, she also wanted to enter in the public speaking event. She was allowed to, and won a gold medal. We were so proud! She had written her own speech and presented it beautifully. The following week at the Sunday evening church service,all the kids who had gotten medals in various events, including public speaking, were asked to present their speeches to the congregation. Well, all except Hilary. Because she was a female, she had to present her speech in the gym while everyone was in line getting their supper at the fellowship dinner. Her father and I were the only ones who stood and listened to her. Everyone was visiting, filling their tea glasses, and situating their kids. The boys had gotten full and undivided attention in the sanctuary. My daughter was banished to a noisy gym.
When Libby was seven, she wanted to play ball. Not softball like the other little girls, she wanted to play Little League Baseball like her big brother. We signed her up. When the coaches drew kids’ names, the man who drew Libby was angry that he’d gotten a girl. A very nice man named Jim traded a boy to get her. When her team beat the discriminatory coach’s team in the league championship, her coach pulled her aside to give her the game ball and tell her the story of how the man they’d just defeated hadn’t wanted her, but he was so proud to have her. I have a photo of that exact moment. Libby’s face is priceless.
As a minister’s wife in the nineties, I found myself in a small church in Oklahoma, embroiled in a discussion of whether women should be allowed to help pass the communion plate (it’s ludicrous, but if you are C of C you get it). Somehow the standing up and passing out grape juice and crackers became a symbol of power (never mind that the way the memorial was done in New Testament times was completely opposite of how it is done in contemporary America). In public discourse I stayed pretty quiet. I didn’t want to get my husband fired. But in a parking lot outside the mall, where the church leadership and their wives had just eaten at Luby’s, I asked one of the elders why it would be such a scandal for me or any other woman to pass the plate. He told me all I wanted was visibility. I was willing to pass the plate, but was I willing to come early to prepare it? I told him of course I was. But on the way home and still all these years later, I have wished I had asked him- was he? Was he willing to give up the visible job of passing that plate for the invisible and thankless job of preparing it?
I find myself baffled that in this country, we still have so far to go. Every day in little ways, I see girls struggling to find their power, their voices. We battle over who controls our bodies, we fight for equal salary rights. Strong women who are not afraid to call the shots are called bitches. Girls clam up in classes, afraid to either show up the boys or make a mistake in front of them. In my school district, women cannot be hired as head principals above the elementary level. Girls who want to be baptized by their female spiritual mentors have to do it in secret moments when the church is virtually empty.
My girls stood up for themselves this summer. They said what needed to be said without being hateful. They are choosing to move forward surrounded by healthy relationships. They know they can be independent, that if they have a relationship with a man it is because they choose him, not because they need a man to make them complete. They are in control of their bodies, their minds, their thoughts. They run, they dance, they are healthy both physically and emotionally.
It’s a continuum, really. From my mother, who gave up college for marriage and spent a lifetime depressed and addicted; to me, needy and broken in my childhood, teens, and twenties but finally realizing my own worth in my thirties and standing as strong as I can moving through my forties. Now my girls. Dynamic. Capable. Confident.
The world is blessed to have my girls in it. The world is blessed by femininity. We women must continue to stand tall, to walk forward, to refuse to be crippled by the doubt of others or our own fears. We must learn to reach out to each other. In solidarity, there is strength.
Besides, no one wants to drink a Cosmo without a girlfriend by her side. Cheers.