I’ve read a few books over the last couple of years that diagnose the same problem within women: confidence. Asking for more money at work, taking control of finances, believing in our innate abilities and our agency as human beings, accepting and loving our bodies just as they are, striding into our lives as though we own them instead of asking permission to live our lives, ensuring that we live in a culture in which we are valued rather than devalued. These are the actions that women need to take in order to live freer, fuller lives. All of these actions require confidence, and confidence is apparently in short supply in the minds and hearts of women. And no wonder: we live in a culture that encourages women to eat ourselves up from the inside, to compete with each other, and to devalue the feminine: to devalue ourselves.
The books I’ve read take different tacks as they urge women to “just do it” and move forward into their power: Gloria Feldt gives women new ways to think about power in No Excuses. Suze Orman lists the qualities of a wealthy woman in Women and Money, and those qualities are all about inner confidence, not outer appearances. In How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran asks us to embrace our bodies as they are, and to recognize that patriarchy has run one hell of a number on our heads. This is all excellent advice, and I have applied at least some of it in my own life.
Patriarchy has run one hell of a number on our heads, and on some days it is difficult to “man up” and ignore it. Ah, but what about womaning up? What if we were to face the messages head on, one by one, looking the full emotional falsity of them in the face rather than repressing or ignoring them so that we could keep on keeping on? What if we looked at patriarchy and said, “Boo!”
Yes, there is that. But whoo-whee, it takes time and energy. And it’s just like laundry—as soon as you’ve finished dealing with one load of patriarchy, there’s another one staring you in the face.
This dilemma begs the question: Which comes first, policies or confidence?
Where is the moxie, the confidence, that will push a new wave of legislation through—a wave that will ensure equal pay for equal work, fight objectification, provide a flexible work environment and affordable daycare and raise the minimum wage, ensure that women have access to the healthcare and information they need to control their own reproductive processes? Women keep asking this question, mostly in the form of “Where is the next Feminine Mystique?”—meaning, “Where is the catalyst that will get this party started?”
I don’t think there is just one.
I think there are many, and I think they are moving, culminating, gathering like storm clouds, rippling through the crowd like infectious laughter. And I think, when the time is right, no one will call it the Year of the Woman. It will be too big for a year to hold.
Why do I think this?
I see it, I hear it all around me. It is all over the feminist online universe, believe me. But it also leaks into the mass media—yes, “having it all” becomes a sound byte, but then Lean In shows up, a bunch of people talk about what it means to lean in, how it works for them, and how it doesn’t work because of sexism, ageism, racism, classism. And then Jennifer Siebel Newsome writes this spot-on piece asking for change.
Women need change, and we’re just the ones to bring it. So says Hillary Clinton, today, at the Women in the World Summit: “I have always believed that women are not victims. We are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace. All we need is a fighting chance.”
She’s exactly right. Women are the agents of change—we always have been. And we are in the process of birthing our own next fighting chance. Simultaneously, our laws are beginning to roll backward, which means there is a real storm brewing. The culmination of these forces—the rising tide of our own labor—may take take two years, or ten. But it’s coming, ready or not.
Nothing, not even a culture that encourages self-destruction rather than self-actualization, can stop it.