As y'all might know, today the world celebrates International Women's Day. It is a day focused on honoring "the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity."
In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that worldwide gender parity would be reached in 2095. Yet just a year later, due to a slowed movement towards equality, the horizon was pushed to 2133.
This is disheartening, to say the least. And so today, I'd like my Forty to 40 tidbit of wisdom to focus on us ladies and one of our most powerful assets: our voices.
Countless studies as well as skeins of anecdotal evidence show that while many girls are bold in their early years, they become more meek and less confident during middle and high school. They report worrying about seeming smart, fitting in, feeling pretty. Hormones are ramping up, bodies are developing, friendships change with the winds. It's a lot to manage cliques and sexuality, popularity and grades, body image and a sense of self. I know it was awfully hard for me and caused enormous amounts of stress. My mom used to say we should have invested in Pepto Bismol stock before I entered high school because we'd have raked in profits during those years.
Somewhere in this maelstrom of development, too many of us girls lose sight of the inner roars with which we were born. Too many of those roars are stifled or even snuffed by a host of factors such as peer pressure, expectations of "feminine" or "ladylike" behavior, external messaging about what girls are good at and what they aren't, what they should be doing and what they most definitely shouldn't.
Bitch in its pejorative connotation hangs like a scarlet cloud, threatening to mark us for being bossy or too strong or something that if we were boys would likely be considered a positive but for us, isn't.
It took me years to learn to stand up for myself, and while I can now handle confrontation in respectful, adult ways, arguments or push-backs, especially when they involve me asserting my opinions and beliefs against others, stay with me for days. They literally ache to process. They make me question myself, my beliefs, whether I should have said anything at all.
That ache? That's residual baggage from years of feeling hesitant and scared to use MY voice. To not only use that voice but also to be proud to do so. To recognize and believe that I am entitled to do so. To throw my shoulders back and say, "This is who I am. Like me or don't, but I'm me."
I adore men. The slope from their neck into their shoulders, their deep voices, their chest hair. I love the way so many of them move about in the world- as if it's theirs for the taking. They can argue and that's that. It's done, no lingering shit or undercurrent of resentment. Many women will stew for days, weeks, could be even longer. Men are, in some ways, so very basic. The general example of males doesn't read too much into anything. What bliss all that must be.
And yet, I've learned that what I take from those men as well as what I take from the women in the world I most admire is that what they are, most basically, is themselves. They are confident in who they are and because of that don't hesitate to use their voices.
This is not to say that I like brash assholes. I don't. I prefer considerate people and considered opinions. Myopia and close-mindedness are bad, bad characteristics.
I'm praising the people who simply go about their lives, following their own inner lights and in doing so often make this world a better place. They don't spend too much time thinking and worrying about what others think of them or whether or not what they said sounded just right.
The closer I've gotten to 40, the louder and clearer I've heard my own voice, my sense of self burbling up from deep within. I attribute a great deal of that to writing, and for that I am ever grateful.
Because I write my way through most days, I have gotten to know so intimately, myself, my rhythms, my moods, my triggers. What makes me happy and calm. What doesn't. When I'm stepping beyond my limits. When I can push a bit more. What makes a real and true friend. What doesn't.
I have found this trajectory of self-awareness to track incredibly neatly with my concurrent rise in self-confidence and, more importantly I believe, my concurrent rise in self-like. I like myself. I really do. I'm not faultless, not perfect. I can be emotional and I have high standards. I cannot tolerate injustice or laziness, and I know that sometimes makes me appear thorny. As a friend said to me recently, "We are half-bitch."
Not the Scarlet B bitch, no. But not a damn doormat either. I accept half-bitch with a smile and a pat on my back because what I take it to mean is that I know myself and am proud of that self. That I will stand up for that self and against injustice. Sassiness isn't always a bad thing.
I accept it for all the Gloria Steinems and Denise Vivaldos and Ruth Bader Ginsburgs and Hillary Clintons and Ava Duvernays and Shirin Ebadis and Bette Midlers and Sarah Silvermans and Gabrielle Hamiltons and Nora Ephrons and Brene Browns and innumerable other Voiced women who speak up and speak out and make us laugh and move us to tears and are changing the world simply by living so honestly. They inspire me every day and have helped me grow so much.
Feminism has nothing to do with throwing men under the bus. It's about women finding and honoring their voices and abilities and being cheered for having done so. Parity. Equality. Truth. Find your voice and use it, if only to know yourself better. It's a worthwhile venture. I promise.