Sunday, August 25, 2013
I Am Woman Hear me...Whisper
Last week, a random sampling of five women from my neighborhood met up for lunch and a swim before saying a final farewell to summer. The hostess extended the invitation to a couple of friends and basically whoever had been standing within earshot. I had been standing within earshot and decided on a whim to join.
I had never been to the hostess' house. She was a mild acquaintance, but her invitation seemed sincere. I had a great time. The next morning, before eight, I got a text from a close friend who wasn't at the lunch/swim asking me how it was, with ample excuses as to why she couldn't be there. The purpose of the text was to put me on notice that she too had been invited, lest I think poorly of her social standing.
I hadn't asked who had been invited--didn't care. And my close friend knows deep down that I don't care and never take attendance at events. But still, she had to make sure I knew she had been invited. I couldn't fathom why. We've long since left high school, even our youngest children have long since left high school, where social standing is the currency of life. I'm perplexed as to why a woman who runs her own thriving business and has successful children and a wonderful marriage cares what I or anyone else thinks about them? By all accounts, she should have been a lot more self-confident.
It got me wondering. Had the women's movement sputtered out somewhere around the 2000's? Was the "stand by your man" mentality of Kathie Lee Gifford, Hillary, Huma and Silda Spitzer a symptom of the times or a harbinger of times to come?
Sex and the City has been running on a loop on basic cable for the past year or so and lately I've been setting my DVR to catch up with the "ladies." As much as I've been enjoying watching them, I have to admit to being shocked. Not by their open-minded approach to sex or their fearless approach to any topic, for that matter, but by the way they fiercely protect their independence in a confident do-not-mess-with-me-honey kind of way. To coin an outdated, oft-used phrase of the seventies, with the exception of Charlotte, these women were "ball-busters." They have too much self-respect to allow themselves to be treated disrespectfully or to have their achievements undermined.
Frankly, I'd forgotten women could be like that.
Many women in power, at least to me, seem so...apologetic. From Sheryl Sandberg to Uma, even to Hillary, the tone isn't the strident voice of the seventies I grew up hearing, its more like yeah, OK, I'm smart, but I need you not to feel threatened by that. And truly the tone today doesn't need to be tough or divisive to further women's empowerment, but it does need to be sure and unwavering. It needs to be confident. Yes, we've made tremendous inroads, but it feels as if we've hit a road bump. Hillary does, on occasion, lob a couple of phrases into the atmosphere about female empowerment so as not to completely lose the women's vote, but it always feels...staged. Too bad on you, Hillary, I'm too smart to be played.
I watched and enjoyed Ms. Sandberg's TED talk. I took away a lot of interesting tidbits, but it was a pretty passive presentation. In Yiddish words, we'd say she was pareve--bland. There was no passion or urgency to her message. She basically implored, no, begged women to reach for what should be rightfully theirs. Huh?
I cut my teeth on Helen Reddy's trailblazing song, I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar, now, it seems that women are too aware of how others are perceiving them and are taking great pains not to come on too strong and offend anyone. Pooh that.
As Ms. Sandberg says, most women still feel its too important to "be liked."
Yes, I'm aware Lady Gaga sings a message of some sort, but frankly sometimes its hard to discern that message is actually from a woman, so elaborate are her stage get-ups. Yes, Beyonce, Taylor Swift, they do speak up, and that's a good thing, but for the most part, too many women have taken a step back and prefer to apologize or stammer and wonder too often how they're regarded by others. Even Lena Dunham, a highly-accomplished and successful writer and producer always seems to cave into herself as she whines her way through her titular show Girls. I tried to watch it, but could barely get through an episode. Lena, where's your self-confidence?
Note to Lena: set your DVR to old SATC reruns.
Sure, there are powerful women, but the interesting thing to me is how politely politically correct they are. I grew up hearing and watching women like Bella Abzug(I'm truly dating myself) wear whatever they wanted and say whatever they wanted. Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, real women who frankly would have had a diminished impact if they were concerned with what other people were thinking about them. If they cared overly much about being polite.
Here's the takeaway.
If you want to blaze a trail, you have to look forward, not over your shoulder, wondering what the people behind you are saying.
And why would you care anyway?
They are behind you.