I have a teenage daughter who just started high school. She’s a great kid: funny, smart, sensitive to others. But I fear that she’s starting to pay heed to all the messages she’s constantly receiving that the most winning thing she can do in life is to be, basically, sexy and dumb. That’s the message I know she’s constantly receiving from (as always) the media, and certainly from social media, which teens use to exert so much peer pressure on young women.
Maybe I just worry about her too much. I know that young girls today are also (thank God) receiving a lot of positive messages about the power of their potential. But I also know that for every empowerment message girls get, they take in 100 messages about how they should always be striving to look and act “hot.”
John, my daughter reads your column. Would you consider writing some advice for her on why, or how, she should remain true to who she really is, even when she’s feeling like the whole world is demanding that she be something less?
Answer: Sure, of course. I appreciate your asking me for this.
Hello, daughter of the mom who wrote me the above.
So, to jump right in: the primary currency in the world has always been power. Everyone is always trying to get all the power they can. Financial power, social power, personal power — basically, everything is always all about power.
Because power is the ultimate possession, people freak whenever any of their power is even slightly threatened.
The dominant power in the world has always been men. That’s because (generally speaking) men can beat up women and children. So this brutal world has always belonged first and foremost to men, who made the world in their image. (Hence obelisks, skyscrapers, rifles, etc.)
Men (being human) love power. But they NEED women. And since time immemorial that DNA-driven need has presented men with one Moby Dick of a problem. Namely, how can they be as needy as women make them feel and yet still maintain all of their power? Need drains power. Nobody is powerful when they’re begging.
So men needed a way to need and love women without compromising their power.
And, gee, what a surprise: Men made a world that assumes as one of its primary linchpins the idea that women—the only thing most men want as much as they do power—should never have or desire any power for themselves. Historically, men, as a whole, have done everything possible to ensure that no women ever wants, or feels like she deserves, anything more than to be barefoot and pregnant, submissive to her husband, a vestal virgin or a hopeless whore.
And still today are women valued for nothing so much as their sexual appeal to men. Still today do men rule a world in which women by and large remain, at best, second-class citizens.
So here is what you, young woman, must do. You must say no to every last bit of that tired, toxic, soul-sucking patriarchy.
No to men, and the culture they run, telling you what you should do, think, feel and be.
No to waiting to be asked, to demurring, to quietly holding your hand up while the boys just yell the answers out.
No to the “feminine ideal” being anything but a way to grade women like slabs of meat.
No to pretending to be less than you are, so that any man in the world can feel like more than he is.
Yes, this is still a man’s world. But today it can cease to be so for any woman who refuses to let that world tell her who she is, what she can do and what she deserves.
Crown yourself the supreme ruler of your life. Surround yourself with a tribe of like-minded individuals who, like you, feel that tomorrow’s too long to wait for justice and equality for all women. Stay alert for messages that assume women will acquiesce in their own diminishment, dismissing each one of them as the pathetic relic it is.
Hold tight to the power you were born with, the power that so many — and most definitely so many men — will determinedly try to leech from you.
Do that for yourself. Do it for your mother, and for her mother, and for all the women who came before you.
Do it so that you’ll never find yourself one day wishing that you had.