“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I am not going to be silent.” — Madeleine Albright
Today is International Woman’s Day, the day when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. As we celebrate, we reflect on the inequalities that persist, the challenges that women around the world still face.
In the spirit of the day — and in the spirit of the loud, beautiful chorus of women’s voices rising up around the world — I’ve written down my hopes and dreams for the two young ladies I happen to love most.
To my daughters on International Women’s Day:
You are both still so young and don’t yet know how girls and boys are supposed to behave, but of course you will learn. How could you not? Society has pretty clear ideas about what you should wear and how you should act. Please don’t buy into it all. Please be silly. Play sports. Scruff it up with the boys at recess. Dress up like a fireman for Halloween. Be tom-boys. Be Girl Scouts. Go out into the world and have messy, scary adventures (but always stick to the buddy-system and always come home before dark).
As you become teenagers, remain true to who you are — to the bright, kind little girls you are now. Be the smart kids. Run for student council. Join the math club. Read “Nancy Drew” and “Anne of Green Gables.” Never cut your own bangs. Never put up with boys who are mean to you. Don’t waste your time with self-doubt or the twisted body image obsessions that cripple the minds of so many young women. There are too many fascinating things happening all around you to navel-gaze your teens away. Look up and take notice! Be curious.
Raise your hand in class whenever you know the answer, or whenever you have a question. Develop your own voice and use it often, even when you’re afraid, even if you have to interrupt someone to be heard. As the late activist Maggie Kuhn said: “Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind — even if your voice shakes.”
In college and into your twenties, study hard, be humble, cheerfully pay your dues at entry-level jobs and please, whatever you do, don’t pierce your tongue.
Find an interesting career that keeps you engaged in the world and challenges your mind. Stand up for yourself in negotiations about pay and position. Ask your male colleagues how much money they make and then ask your boss for at least that much. Don’t feel embarrassed. This is important.
Find a partner to go through life with who thinks you’re just as brilliant as I do and who will have your back as you pursue your dreams. Be supportive of their dreams, too.
When you find yourself in a position of some authority at work, do not pull the ladder up behind you. Hire women.
Have children, or not. Stay home with them, or not. Take whichever path feels the most meaningful to you. It might not be the same as my path, and that’s OK. (But if I’m being totally honest, I hope you do choose children. They will fill your life with more love than you ever knew existed. They will make you less self-centered.)
Remember that the goal of the women’s movement was never to force you to live your lives just as men would. Rather, what the trailblazing women who came before us fought for was your right to live whatever sort of life you feel called to live. Do it joyfully and with confidence. You go, girls.
(A version of this post was published in The Wenatchee World, where Kelli’s column appears Wednesday through Friday. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.)