Posted by: canthold | October 2, 2007

Girl Power

A few things have happened recently that have made me really think about my daughters and their role in this world. Actually, more to the point, the obstacles that they will navigate around as they grow into women.

I volunteered in my daughter’s classroom a couple of weeks ago to facilitate a Writer’s Workshop. They were instructed beforehand to be quiet during their writing period and I was told to give out Caught In The Acts to motivate them. These little pieces of paper are praise for desirable behavior to motivate against undesirable behavior. I didn’t really need to use them, since the kids were terrific all on their own, but I gave one away.

One particular little girl didn’t speak or fool around at all and she sat at her desk and did exactly what she was supposed to. I was very impressed with her maturity. Near the end of the session, I gave her the Caught In The Act. As I watched her, I thought, our society really wants girls to sit quietly and behave themselves, doesn’t it?. (Don’t they? Which is it?) I didn’t reward her for her quietness, but for the prolific writing she did during the workshop. While she may have been quietly obeying the rules, she was expressing herself with abundance. That’s what I liked about her.

I couldn’t help but think that my rule-following self appreciated the compliance. It suits my nature to have order like that. But I also was struck by the fact that while I’ve always spoken my mind, I used to want to be one of those quiet girls. I wanted to be sweet and nice and have everyone like me rather than drive people away with my opinions. Perhaps I was simply trying to please society and appease my need for order by striving to achieve this ideal. As I’ve gotten older, I accept this quality in myself and think that it can really be a good thing. Sometimes my voice speaks for people who are too timid to talk themselves. I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself anymore, though I’d prefer not to. I just can’t hold my tongue.

I hope that I can teach my girls to stand up for what they believe in and speak out, but I know that this is an obstacle of social teaching that they will need to navigate along the way.

Another thing that happened was that I read a post by Mr. PunditMom. He talks about having to explain that there have never been any women presidents in the history of our country. It reminded me of the disillusionment that I felt when I discovered that the Equal Rights Amendment never passed.

I grew up believing that women could do anything they wanted. I believed they had the same opportunities as men. I think that not being able to play baseball because it was for boys and softball was for girls should have clued me in, but it didn’t. I never let perceptions stop me from achieving whatever I set my mind to. While this has always been a great philosophy to live by, sometimes in this day and age, it feels like I’m the caged bird trying to sing.

Suddenly as a stay-at-home mom on the cusp of returning to work, I feel that the world that I always saw as being my oyster, was really a stinky old clam. I like to think that I chose to jump out of the workforce, but suddenly it feels more like a push. Want to get back in? Kick! I loved my company, but the corporate culture was not conducive to being a mother. The only mother who cut back her hours to keep working was laid off at the first opportunity. Other than her, there were NO other mothers in our group. And all the married men had stay-at-home wives. Funny thing. But I digress…(But wait…ironically it is listed in the Working Women’s Top 10 Companies to Work For. )

The last thing that happened in this bout of synchronicity was High School Musical. We caught the end of it on TV. I didn’t really understand what my daughter, who is only six, could see in this movie. Then there was a scene where the leading lady suddenly got too shy to sing to the whole school. The leading man (er…boy) gave her the confidence to go on in such a Prince-Charming-saves-the-day way. I saw all the princess themes speed before my eyes and oh my! I didn’t like what I saw. I suddenly became super aware of how girls are being lured into the idea that men will save them because they can’t do things on their own. The message was there all along, but the clarity this time was as strong as a shot of tequila and just as nasty.

Is it a coincidence that PunditMom wrote about women speaking out politically today? (Er…yesterday by the time I’mfinishing this!) Maybe, maybe not. Maybe she was just talking to me and telling me not to silence my voice any longer. Maybe she’s telling me to write about politics they way I used to. (She probably doesn’t even know who I am, so probably not.) But it’s all in how you interpret the writing on the wall, isn’t it?

In any case, I want more than anything to be the kind of mother who can empower her daughters to live full lives and to reach out and grab the things that they need and want without doubting whether they can do it or not. And I certainly hope they don’t have too many people using the “C” word on them. (As in can’t.)

I worry about them and I worry about me and I worry about women who have somehow bought into the whole subservient gender thing. We are no doubt different from men, but we should be treated fairly and equally. In everything. We need to prove our voices are as strong as men’s and speak up and speak out.



  1. Wow…. This could have been written 30 years ago. I wish I had spoken up more and as well as you do. The more we change the more it stays the same.

  2. […] presents Girl Power posted at Can’t Holder Tongue. She says: I worry about them and I worry about me and I worry […]

  3. […] Girl Power highlights a moms reflection on some of the obstacles that her daughter will encounter as she grows […]

  4. Hi Carol. This was such a thought provoking post. It’s amazing that we are taught things that we don’t even realize will impact our lives in many different ways. I too used to want to be one of those likeable quiet girls. Not anymore! I’ve added this post to my list of 20 Posts All Women Should Read.

  5. Thank you DJ. I appreciate being added to your list!

  6. What a great post!

  7. I am a teenage girl, and I also have the habit of not being able to keep my opinions to myself. I see things like the Highschool Musical disaster all the time, but when you try to point something like that out in highschool, you are automatically being touchy. My friends roll their eyes, and guys just about gag if I start to talk. It’s not like that’s all I ever talk about, either, just occasionally. Girls today just don’t see the problem here, and have been told so many times that if they find something offensive, they’re being “unladylike” or don’t have a sense of humor, so they’ve convinced themselves to quiet down and go with the flow. I have also brought up the whole softball thing, and have been told to “stop being stupid.” I would be worried about my daughters too if I had any. I’m certainly worried about the future of my own generation.

  8. Keep speaking out, Sara!

  9. Funny how we’re still talking about these themes like they’re brand new….. I’m 24 and have been into gender studies etc since I was 12. To me, these themes are blatant in my everyday life- and I’m in one of the more ‘advanced’ countries! I pity women in poorer nations whose subservience is assured, but I can’t help but pity those women of my own nation (Australia) who think there is no longer any need to fight. Women my age have grown up with legal ‘rights’, not realising (a) that such rights can be eroded/ removed if they are not enforced, and (b) it is up to them to continue to fight for them/ refine them. I’m sick of women saying “I’m not a feminist, but…”. Get some (metaphorical) balls already, and do what men do- that is, say what you think, and what it is you really want, regardless of the looks you get! But first, have a good long think about what it is you want, and why. How many times in the past as a kid did you hear: “Girls don’t do that”, or “Boys don’t do that.” We’ve all been suckered, in a way.

  10. Alex, please don’t “pity women in poorer nations”. poverty is not necessarily linked to reduced rights. Coming from a poorer nation, I often pity women in America, because I think 2 months of maternity leave is positively barbaric. I don’t understand how American women can just accept this. I don’t understand why they’re not storming the white house. But I suppose to have such acquiescence on the part of women when faced with such travesties, you need to start conditioning them very early. Revolutions are just not something that good little girls do.

  11. Being a mom and a grandma and growing up in the 50-60’s, I can certainly see your point. There are many things that have improved, but not everything. Some of the basic beliefs in the conditioning of our Western society have still basically not changed….how sad.
    I feel, it’s up to us, as parents, to help give our children a positive self-image as well as impressing upon our daughters their self-worth and how important equality is. The better they feel about themselves, the more empowered they will be. The more empowered they are, the more equality between men and women will prevail.
    We should be doing this with the thought that there IS a beautiful difference between males and females which is natural and can be wonderful. It’s when one takes advantage of another because of their sex it becomes an issue.

  12. I have two things to say; Perhaps, first of all, that the girl being quiet wasn’t being quiet because she was a girl, maybe they didn’t even want them to be quiet because they were girls, but they wanted them to be quiet and do as their told because that’s what you should do in school. I’m a boy, and hey, what do I do? I shut up and am quiet in school!

    As for the high school musical thing, girls have came in and saved me before, and I have came in and saved girls before. And, ever since my childhood, that’s what the “role” has been on television, yet, not to any surprise, this isn’t the case in real life. It’s like a 50/50 thing.

  13. Oh, and by the way, Zora, men don’t get leave for when their wives have maternity leave, perhaps the man might want just as much say in being a parent as the women, but we’re not given that right, now are we?

  14. Actually, Casey, men CAN take up to 12 weeks off to care for their newborn. Unfortunately, this time off is unpaid, but it is available for men and women.

    I’m also glad to hear that you think that the “saving” is done 50/50 these days. Perhaps some of the things that I have experienced as a young girl don’t happen anymore. More likely, though, I think it’s a matter of noticing what’s going on. The subtle clues and underlying prejudices are there, even if we don’t notice them.

  15. Casey, I see what you’re saying, but I think sometimes it’s a lot harder to see certain things if you’re not looking through the eyes of a woman. It’s not a 50/50 world, and sometimes there are injustices on both sides of the fence. I just hope you understand that, as a guy, you are able to do more in this society with less difficulty.

  16. Ah, I didn’t know men could take that time off. I apologize.

    I see often things being given to women a lot too. Let’s say parents are in a custody case, more often than not, even if the mom is a bit more whacked out than the dad, the Mom will get the child.

    Let’s say a women doesn’t want to get into a fight, they will not loose dignity for not doing it, yet if a man has to get into a fight and chickens out, he gets mocked for a long time and isn’t taken seriously.

    Let’s say a woman goes to prison. Where does she go? She goes to a prison that’s not very crowded and full of people who arn’t as harsh as male prisons. If a man goes to prison, he has to try hard to survive and not get raped (1/10 male prisoners have been reported as being raped and sexually abused).

    Speaking of prison and crimes and such, let’s take this for example:
    My brother got charged with retail theft as a minor. He had to pay a $600ish fine or so. This girl I know got charged with armed robbery in a gas station (with a crowbar, which she swung at the cashier), she had to pay $250, and she wasn’t a minor. My brother got charged as an adult. So did she. It’s permanently on my brothers record, she gets it esponged(sp) after paying the fines.

    Girls do have some things easier, and boys do have some. If you look hard enough, you can find downright statistical facts for both, rather than speculation.

  17. You are right, Casey, that sometimes things aren’t fair. It would be ideal to be able to predict equal outcomes in all cases, rather than not knowing which side the bias will fall on.

    Some of the social bias that you’re referring to can only get better with time. Men used to duel and now they don’t. This is an improvement, don’t you think? I agree that the better parent should get custody in a dispute, not just the mom. I also think the dad should keep fighting for his rights if he is wronged like that.

    Noticing the differences is the first step. Women are aware that they have the advantage in some cases, but for the most part, we are not in a position of power to make the changes necessary to ensure equal footing. We are not fighting to get equal pay (right now women make about 76 cents to a man’s dollar) but lesser jail sentences. If sentencing were fair, equal would be preferred.

    As for your brother, an important thing to consider is that if his punishment was harsh enough, he might be deterred from committing another crime again. I think that would be better for him than to get off easy and do it again. And I hope that the woman who committed an armed robbery doesn’t become a repeat offender, but maybe it’s more likely. In this case, your brother may have received the better end of the deal. (Perhaps if he keeps his nose clean, he can petition to court to expunge his record, too. It would be worth investigating.)

    In my own quest for equal footing with men, both for myself and my daughters, I do not want to stand on the heads of men to raise myself up. I think our whole society will be better for granting equality to women, though, since men are the ones who hold more cards, they will be the ones who have to give some of them up to share the deck.

    Casey, keep your eyes open and fight against injustices done to anyone. And thank you for your dialogue. I appreciate hearing what you have to say.

  18. Thank you to everyone who has written in with comments and opinions. I appreciate that you have taken the time to share what you think.

  19. If you want to empower your daughters, then you will!

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