When I think of an ideal role model for my daughter, my goddaughter, Friend’s daughter, and me, I tend to think of a few specific attributes.
- Intelligence. Knowledge is power, after all. And I’m not referring simply to a natural state of intelligence, I’m thinking of one who hungers for information always.
- Excellent communication skills. She can explain complex theories in ways that are perfectly easy to grasp. She can convince you easily, smoothly. She can mediate. She can make peace. She can state her piece clearly, concisely.
- Independence. She’s a free-thinking individual who doesn’t blindly follow the herd. Sometimes she takes the well-worn road, but she’ll forge her own path if she has to. The people she loves and brings into her life are there by her choosing and invitation and are not there because of fear, insecurity, or because everyone else has someone in their lives.
- Hard-working. It doesn’t matter what the work is, when it’s time to get to it she does it. She puts her best effort, full concentration, and complete passion into the things that are meaningful in her life.
- Confidence. She doesn’t look to others for approval because she doesn’t need it. She might raid your brain for some ideas or input or perspective but she makes up her own mind. She screws up, admits it, learns, and moves on. She knows she can handle “this” and this is everything.
If you ask me, any woman who has ever made a positive mark on history has possessed these qualities. If you want to be an effective woman and create change in your world, these qualities must be in your possession. These are the traits of a strong woman. This is what you will find in common among all women of significance on all levels– from a local environmental activist to an international advocate for women’s rights to a CEO of a multimillion dollar corporation.
Do you know what you may not find among the truly amazing women in our world?
Leather wardrobes, a penchant for armor and horseback riding, abilities to hot-wire a car or even change a tire much less the oil, guns, motorcycles, and other indicators of “toughness” Peg Aloi clamors for in her piece at Huffington, Tough Gals: Do They Still Exist?. Heck, I bet among the truly amazing, strong women in the world you may not always find even a pantsuit.
The strong women of today aren’t any less so than the women of yesterday because they may or may not own a Hello Kitty bra. Aloi bemoans the current fascination with all things girly, touting this as an indication we’ve gone as soft as a handknit cashmere scarf.
What happened to our hard-won bad-assery? All those years of being suffragettes, bra-burners, free love artists, corporate queen bees, supermoms and women-who-wanted-and-got-it all? I mean, hadn’t we arrived and become a force to be reckoned with? […] Maybe “having it all” was a silly fantasy that ultimately made women feel exhausted and inferior. Maybe we just wanted to sit on our asses and knit and eat cupcakes in our Hello Kitty jammies.
And now that so many women have seemingly retreated from our reign of awesomeness to immerse themselves in the feminine past-times of yesteryear, it does indeed appear that we’ve lost sight of what it means to be a badass, strong, tough woman.
Oh dear, Peg (can I call you Peggy? It’s so much cuter). It appears you have it all wrong. And you are so misguided in your judgment I can’t help but wonder– are you a member of the patriarchy in feminist clothing?
Here is a quick description of Peg’s longed for tough gals:
There are tough times ahead, and we need to be tough bitches to face them. Growing vegetables is useful; but so is learning how to shoot a gun, hot-wire a car, and manipulate our way into a bomb shelter. Remember our tough gal role models? They were strong, sexy, and took no crap. They wore leather and sang rock and roll.
Here’s what bothers me about that whole description she’s got going on there– those chicks sound a lot like… men. She even goes on to specifically mention the likes of Grace Jones who worked hard to look like… a man. And really? Courtney Love? As much as I love her music, I’d rather not hold her up on a pedestal as a kind of woman to aspire to.
I will not take away what the stereotypical tough gals do for the feminist cause. Specifically, they show men they’re not as precious as they think themselves they are. These women show them we can do a lot of the stuff they claim for themselves. Heck, they even show women can even look like men. These are the “Anything you can do, I can do better” variety and they have their place in the movement.
The problem is, as a feminist I demand equal rights for men and women. There’s no clause attached to that statement. See, I don’t want equal rights for men and women who emulate men.
As a matter of fact, I will go on to argue this type of op-ed piece is extremely damaging to the feminist movement. Here’s why.
This piece concedes the domestic, “ultra-femme” arts are sub-par to the more masculine arts of the gun-toting, hot-wiring variety. This piece is basically admitting a realization that women and the things they are often associated with are less important and less desirable. This is extremely dangerous and damaging thinking.
It is in the same vein as declaring a teacher to be of a lesser class than a police officer. They’re both civil servants. They’re both employed to better the public. But being a teacher, in this context, is definitely not as awesome as being a police officer.
Peg claims shooting a gun to be as useful as gardening. At the same time, she’s pretty horrified by cupcakes. Funny enough, the first woman to come to mind when you talk to me about shooting guns is Sarah Palin while the first woman who comes to mind when you talk to me about cupcakes (and every domestic art) is Martha Stewart.
I’m pretty sure most people would concede Martha’s at least as tough as Sarah. I mean, Martha even served time in jail. And they’re both often referred to by that b-word Peg’s so fond of. For me, the differences come down to their contributions– Martha’s got a huge multi-faceted corporation and Sarah’s… well I’m not going to go into Sarah right now but I don’t count her as a feminist that’s for sure.
Not to mention, this kind of ridiculous commentary takes away from some really amazing women that are accomplishing some really amazing things right now.
- Let’s start with BUST magazine. BUST is a feminist magazine. One of its founders was Debbie Stoller– the knitting rock star of the world if you will. Peg’s pissed they’re having a craft fair. The thing is, BUST’s got it right– equal rights for women: even the ones who do womanly things.
- What about Miesha Tate? She’s the Strikeforce MMA fighter with a championship belt. She often wears pigtails into the ring and has posed in some very sexy and feminine poses. She looks cute and girly as heck but she’ll choke your lights out– while wearing pink.
- There’s also Misty Copeland. She does this super girly thing called ballet. And she’s amazing at it. Is that too girly? Even if she’s more muscular than Xena? I haven’t even mentioned she’s a rare African-American ballerina and is making waves in the call for further diversity in the ballet world.
- Let’s also talk about Daina Taimina. Don’t know her? She’s a mathematician (so feminine, right?). Daina solved a problem mathematicians had been struggling with for centuries– how to make a model of a hyperbolic plane that you can physically manipulate without damaging. Until Daina came along, mathematicians had to rely on computer models and you can’t touch those. And a colleague of her came up with paper models but those were really delicate little things that you couldn’t stretch or smoosh or twist or toss or anything. Well Daina saw those paper models and figured out the solution– she crocheted a hyperbolic model.
- Peg really likes fictional female characters. She provides more examples of characters in movies and TV than real-life women in her piece. Since she likes those fake women so much, I have another recommendation for an interesting woman– Alexia Tarabotti. She’s the main character in Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels. Alexia is quite concerned with manners, pastries, and parasols but she also gets down and dirty with the likes of werewolves, vampires, ghosts, and other spooky things– all while keeping her hair as neat as possible, please.
- Finally, there’s a whole segment of women that were recently in the news– female investors. Funny enough, Peg alludes to a particular “Wall Street ball-breaker in Working Girl” but what’s fascinating is the news that female investors have been more successful managing portfolios than men. Why? By being decidedly feminine in their investment strategies– i.e. risk-averse (and most likely not concerned with ball-breaking).
What is truly important to understand is the fight for equal rights for women is not a fight that requires masculinity or toughness. The fight for equal rights does not require blazing guns and fist fights. It doesn’t require armor. Honestly, it doesn’t even need these things and most women fighting for women’s rights don’t want to bring these things into the equation. And it’s not because we’re soft. It’s because we want our rights on our womanly, feminine terms.
As a matter of fact, if you ask me what a leader in the feminist movement should look like, I’d say I’d prefer one that looks decidedly feminine. We are women. There’s absolutely no shame in that. We don’t need to pretend. We don’t need to hide. I am woman, hear me roar– in my dress and stilettos.