A Disturbance in the Force

leiaBack in October, when glass ceilings seemed shatter-able and not steeled, I was a judge for a Halloween costume contest. There was the expected assortment of ghouls and zombies, mummies and small, adorable witches in black, pointed hats. What was lacking were multitudes of frilly princesses in confectionary gowns all a-sparkle. I admit, I was surprised.

Way back in the 1970s, as a girl gearing up for the glory of a New England Halloween, there weren’t a lot of female icons to choose from. Come October 31, your choices fell somewhere between gypsy and witch. If you were lucky, Wonder Woman in a bullet-proof brassiere and sweaty, plastic mask.

Where were all the heroes a girl could see her reflection within?

It’s naive to assume that along the arc of history girls and women have been sitting silent and still on the sidelines. It is incorrect to assume that women have not been steadily contributing to art and science and exploration, mathematics, innovation. Women—explorers and inventors, leaders and heroes—have always been there, it is just that more often than not, we’ve been left–or forced–out of the narrative.

As an elementary school girl I read about Vasco de Gama and Magellan, Isaac Newton and Galileo; the artists, the authors, the musicians, the doers and inventors, the sports figures—they were all male, almost all white. There were a handful of women thrown in, but not many.

As a girl, you were often left with…princesses.

And then, in 1977, along came Carrie Fisher in a belted toga and cinnamon bun hair and in one epic reel of film, girls of my generation suddenly had a hero of their very own. A badass princess who could shoot a gun, was mouthy, and was organizing a resistance against a tyrannical regime.

For many girls, pig-tailed and searching for something they couldn’t name, she was a first.

The only people who underestimate the importance of representation—in books, or films, or even in everyday life, are those who don’t need to look far to see themselves reflected in the eyes of society; the first television show you turn on, the first history book you open, the first book from the canon of literature. But when nothing you see in the world matches the you that stares back from the mirror, it makes you question your own validity. It can feel as if you exist in a vacuum.

It’s not surprising one of the first real female heroes of my generation was from a science fiction film, set in a time and place where it was safe for females to rule, to fight, to command. It seems, in 2016, in real life, we are still not ready for a female to do that. Yet, at the end of the day, Leia was still a Princess, still a damsel in need of rescuing, but she was the first princess I remember who transcended passiveness. Leia didn’t sit around waiting, braiding her hair and biding her time until a prince came to shoot the truest arrow for her hand. She spearheaded a guerrilla movement.

Dig just a little and you will see how large a part women played in the French resistance movement, how crucial women were working at Bletchley Park to crack the Enigma, how women contributed to space exploration at NASA and computer engineering. How women have been there, all along.

When I was a young girl, heroes were men. No one ever did the digging to show us the heroes who were women.

Oh, but Leia! Leia was a girl.

I suppose it’s fitting that of all that the post-mortems I’ve written this year, Carrie Fisher’s would be the last. In a year which was filled with ups and downs for many women, a year in which many women  saw their own reflection in a potential leader for the first time, that the last post-mortem should be for actress who brought us Princess Leia. Leia was the first princess many Toughskin wearing girls saw and wanted to emulate–not because she was blonde and beautiful, but because she wasn’t. She could hold her own, on her own.

As I watched my social media feed explode with remembrances of Fisher, but mostly of Leia, I wasn’t surprised. The effect Leia had on an entire generation of girls who saw, on screens, the bits of themselves they had no room to express before is profound. Leia came and blew life into the vacuum.

Back in October, watching the parade of costumes, my heart sang. I have no problem with girls who like to dress as princesses, but to see how the spectrum of choice has grown exponentially between their generation and my own was a beautiful thing. There was a Jillian Holtzman, the scientist from the Ghostbusters reboot, a baseball player from A League of Their Own and a kick-ass Rey from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. How many more heroes to choose from these days. When given the option, most of these young girls chose strength and smarts over sparkle and sequins.

It’s no accident that most of those girls have mothers who watched Carrie Fisher blast her way across movie screens a few decades ago.

Carrie Fisher was much more than Princess Leia Organa of Alderon, of course. She was a noted author, an advocate for mental health and addiction recovery. She was a sharp-tongued wit and a feminist. A mother, a daughter. She was complex and imperfect, a warrior scarred from battles both personal and public. Carrie Fisher, like Leia, was the reflection of so many of us, unafraid to put her scars on display.

But for many, she will be remembered, primarily, as that Princess.

Thank you, Carrie, for giving a generation of girls a Princess who could shoot straight and smart. There is still a long way to go until the force is in balance. We’ll take your lessons forward as we try to find it.

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This Vote’s For You

women-vote-nyc-gettyimages-459216385-1This vote’s for you, Susan B.

This vote’s for every little girl who was told math wasn’t for girls and for every young woman who was told girls can’t grow up to be doctors or lawyers or engineers, astronauts or Presidents.

This vote’s for every woman who has ever had to moderate her voice or been told what or what not to wear.

This vote is for every little girl who was told she couldn’t be Bat Man for Halloween and for every little boy who was told he couldn’t be Wonder Woman.

This vote is for every angry woman who’s ever been asked “are you on the rag?

It’s for every woman who has put her head down to survive.

And for every woman who was told college is wasted on girls.

It’s for every woman who died from back-alley abortions or because her life wasn’t considered as important as the one she was carrying.

This vote is for every young girl who was turned away from woodworking and put into Home Economics instead.

It’s for every girl who asked “Why?”

It’s for all the men enlightened enough to see that a world in which women are equal is better not only for women, but for men as well.

This vote is for every woman who scrubbed toilet stalls or stood on her feet ten hours a day or cleaned houses or worked a factory floor in order to provide for her children.

This vote is for every woman beaten, every woman assaulted, every woman touched against her will. It’s for the ones who were able to get away and for the ones who couldn’t.

This vote is for the women of Seneca Falls, NY, to the women who fought and died for my right to cast this ballot.

It’s for every woman who has endured a lifetime of small moments meant to belittle.

It’s for all the women who have come forward, especially the ones who have been doubted, shamed, or shunned.

This vote is for every woman who has had to write under the name of a man, who’s had her work overlooked, her contributions diminished, who has lost her rightful place in history books.

This vote is for every woman who’s had to work twice as hard to prove herself.

This vote is my mother who never once told me I was less than because of my sex. For my father who never shied away from telling me how proud he was of me.

This vote is for every girl who has heard ‘like a girl’. It’s for every little girl who knows, instinctively, it’s meant as an insult.

This vote is for every woman who came before, who chipped away a little at a time. For every woman who watched a dream fade away because others weren’t ready for her.

This vote is for every woman who has been called shrill, aggressive, bossy, bitch. This vote is for every woman who didn’t let those words stop her.

This vote is for every eye blackened, every bone broken, every woman killed.

This vote is for every woman who went first, who cut herself on whichever ceiling she broke through, who had to tend to her wounds alone because she was the only one.

This vote is for every little girl growing up in a country where she is still denied the right to be educated, where she is sold into marriage or trafficked into trade.

This vote is for my husband, who believes I can do anything I dare to dream. It’s for my sons, who will grow up never questioning the idea of a woman’s name on a ballot.

ballots-for-womenThis vote is for every voice raised against inequality, whether it is shouting or whispering.

This vote’s for you, Hillary.

An Open Letter to Mothers of Girls

Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?
Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?

Dear Moms of Girls,

I always figured I would have daughters. I won’t go so far as to say I envisioned myself holding bundles of pink and sparkle, but in the back of my head I looked forward to raising kick-ass girls who would rock and roll; girls who would build on the momentum of a righteously feminist mother and hopefully one day, leave me sputtering in the dust.

Then I went and had boys. And I’m here to tell you I am THAT mom of boys.

You know the one I mean, right? (Don’t lie. I can see you rolling your eyes from my couch.)

I’m the boring mother who insists that if they’re talking about a female over the age of eighteen, they use the word woman, the one that jumps on any chance to point out how we use words differently when we talk about boys and girls–and yeah, I stretch it a bit far sometimes to make a point. Usually it snaps back and hits me in the ass, but there you go.

I’m the one who lectures them until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice about listening when people say “I don’t like that” or “Stop touching me.” Even though my youngest is only 8 and has no interest in girls. Or boys. Or animals for that matter. But over and over. Look at me when I’m talking to you, this is important. When someone says not to touch them, you must.stop.touching.them.right.away.

I’m that boring-ass mother who’s constantly bringing up the achievements of girls and women. The one who’s teaching my sons to hold the door open for everyone, not just girls because it’s not about being a gentlemen, it’s about not being an asshole.

I’m the one who’s constantly harping on about how even though boys and girls are different, men and women are different, one is not better than another. The one always reminding them you can’t tell if someone is a boy or a girl by the length of their hair or the color of their shirt, what they like or don’t like, what they do or don’t do.

I’m the over-the-top mom, the one continuously pointing out stereotypes.

Great, thanks. Now let's talk about wage equality
Great, thanks. Now let’s talk about wage equality

I’m the one who doesn’t let my kids play video games that objectify women. The one who made sure they knows what a period is, what tampons are for, where babies come from, what boobs are for. The one who taught them the word vagina. The one who, when they’re ready, will be explaining that yes, women like sex because it feels good.

I’m the over-zealous mom who sat down with her 2nd grade son when he started going to school dances about how to respect girls, and what to do if a girl asked him to dance and he didn’t want to. That is wasn’t ok to laugh or make fun or disrespect, even if he wasn’t interested. Or in his case, terrified at the thought.

I’m the one who has told them if I ever find out they’re making fun of a way a girl looks I’ll take them down. If I ever find out they’re demeaning a girl, I’ll take them down. If I find out they’re using sexually charged insults I’ll be over them like white on rice. I’m the one that sounds like a whining drill that when I keep saying things like “cry like a girl” it is insulting, unfair and untrue.

I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t excuse aggression just because my kids are boys.

I’m the slight nut-case who has endless dinner table conversations about how women are under represented, how history only tells the story from one point, the one who quizzes them on  history facts about women and voting rights. (Yes. I really am that mom)

I’m the one that will sit their asses down and give them talk after talk about sex and consent and how if they are ever unsure, the answer is no.

I’m the one who is boring them to tears with conversations about the roles women have played in history.

I’m the one who is passionately ranting about how to make things equal. How it is important to value people for who they are and not assume they’re better just because they are a boy or a girl.

I’m the one who’s not worried so much about raising my sons to be gentlemen. Your daughters don’t need gentlemen. They deserve boys and men who view them as equals.

Math, science, computers. You?
Math, science, computers. You?

I’m the pain in the ass, you-are-sick-of-hearing mom who is continually pointing out that not only can girls do anything boys can do, but boys can do anything girls can do–well, except for the birth thing.

Yes, I’m THAT mom.

I’m a pain in the ass. I go on and on. I am a record stuck in a groove. I’m THAT mom.

The one who is raising boys to view your daughters as equals, as partners, as people.  The one who’s doing her damnedest to raise men who don’t worry as much about holding open doors as they do about making the world a more equal–and thereby better–place for us all.

I’m willing to take the fall, be the patsy, ignore the rolling eyes and huffing sighs…if it works.

I’m THAT mom.

Love,
Me

What It Feels Like For a Girl

PrintIf you’re a parent, if you have a daughter, go and look at her right now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Maybe she is asleep, curled softly against your chest, a little bundle of pink and spice and everything nice. Maybe she’s digging in a sandbox or playing soccer, spinning in a tutu or blowing a trombone. Maybe she’s going out, a skateboard under her arm, or curling her eyelashes on her way to a date. Maybe you’re already poring over college catalogs together, talking about her dreams. Doesn’t matter. Just take a good, long look at her.

Now take her aside. Sit her down. Look her in the eye, and tell her she’s not as deserving as a boy.

Tell her she’s less important.

Tell her that no matter what she does in life, no matter what she is recognized for, what she accomplishes, it will always be diminished because she’s a girl.

Tell her she can’t be trusted to make choices about her own body. Tell her it’s best if she leaves the difficult and complex decisions about who or how or when to plan a family to other people, people who don’t know her or have any insight into her life or personal beliefs. People, who, most of the time, don’t even know what it is like to live in the body of a girl.

Tell her she doesn’t deserve the same attention or opportunity as boys. Tell her that deep down, girls are weaker, that when push comes to shove, they don’t really want to lead, they aren’t capable of commanding.

Tell her you’re always going to hold her to a different standard. Tell her she needs to be twice as good for half the reward.

Loudly explain to your daughter that if she does everything exactly right then maybe, just maybe, things will even out. (Then whisper in her ear that of course they won’t–because she’s always less than).

Tell her you don’t trust her to make decisions about sex. Call her a bitch. Tell her she’d better keep her legs shut or suffer the consequences. Then call her frigid.

Tell her that her life doesn’t matter as much as her brother’s.

Body is a battleground

List the thousand and one reasons someone might pummel the soft flesh of her body, every single one of which she bears the blame for.

Tell her if she’s raped or beaten, it’s probably because she did something wrong. Tell her she can’t drink too much or drink the wrong drink or wear the wrong clothes, talk to the wrong person, be in the wrong place, go to college, go for a jog, walk alone. Tell her she can’t flirt. Tell her she can’t lead someone on, can’t accept dinner and flowers and expect to simply go home.

Go on, tell her that no doesn’t always mean no, that deep down, she must really want it, she’s just afraid to say it.

Then call her a whore.

Tell her you hate her for no other reason than she’s a girl. Tell her it’s cruel to laugh at or reject someone who’s only trying to impress her. Tell her that a giggle or a refusal is more than enough justification for harm.

Tell her it’s her fault.

Tell her no one will believe her anyway.

Tell her she deserves less money, that she should pay more for goods and services just because they’re made for girls.

Tell her she’s being irrational when she tries to point out the absurdity of wanting to make decisions about her own body.

Tell her she’s being ungrateful when she points out it’s unfair she should earn less, pay more, be locked out.

Tell her it’s her own fault when she points out she shouldn’t have to worry about being raped simply because she had too much to drink or went for a run; that she shouldn’t need to worry about being killed because she fell for the wrong guy.

bodyTell her she’s wrong when she declares you are being unfair because that’s all in the past, there’s nothing to talk about.

Would you be comfortable sitting down with your daughters and saying this out loud to them?

Because this is what she hears all the time. This is what we are all shouting at our daughters with our laws and our double standards, our perceptions and expectations, our justice system, our actions.

This is what our girls hear every single day, regardless of whether we are saying it out loud. And unless we work to change it, unless we all start shouting even louder that it isn’t right, unless we start teaching our boys, unless we start changing laws, well….we may as well be saying it right to their faces.