Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Liz on Mixed Messages


imageI came of age in the seventies, a time when girls were constantly pelted with mixed messages about what life held in store for them. Women began to pursue traditionally male careers (Yay!), then were sexually harassed in the workplace (Boo!). Title IX was enacted as law (Yay!), but at my high school, the girls still had to use the old gym while the boys claimed the shiny new one, and the girls’ field hockey team had to practice and play their games in an overgrown field behind the school, even when no one was using the more manicured areas reserved for boys’ sports (Boo!). Shows sprang up on TV that featured strong, crime-fighting women (Yay!), yet the only upper body strength they possessed was contained in a skimpy bikini top (or, in Wonder Woman’s case, a satin bustier). And they still all answered to men (Boo!).

It was a tough time to be a teenage girl, trying to figure out your place in the world.

Especially since the one message we DID receive loudly and clearly was that if we wanted to reach our fullest potential, if we wanted to be strong, independent women, we had to do it ALONE. Movies like “An Unmarried Woman” and “My Brilliant Career” (both of which I loved) told us in no uncertain terms that we had to make a choice: Either fall in love and remain personally unfulfilled forever, or live a solitary life and find complete personal satisfaction.

One line from “My Brilliant Career” has always haunted me. At one point, Sybylla’s Aunt Gussie tells her, “Loneliness is a terrible price to pay for independence.” My teenage self thought that was an incredibly pithy observation, and I went right home to record it in my journal. When I hear it now, I think, “Huh?”

Where did this come from, this idea that in order to be complete, we women had to be alone? That by falling in love and making a commitment to another human being, we were somehow diminishing ourselves? That our choices were: A) Fall in love and be unhappy, or B) Remain alone and be happy. Why couldn’t we fall in love and be happy? Nope, sorry. Not one of the choices, according to the world where I grew up.

Thankfully, I think most of us saw through that message and fell in love anyway. I mean, it’s not like falling in love or not falling in love is a choice, right? We meet someone who loves and respects us as we are, someone who shares our hopes and dreams and desires, someone who makes our life better just by being in it, and what? We’re supposed to NOT love them? Especially when loving them and being loved in return is a big part of what makes us complete?

I hope society today is sending out clearer, better, messages to its young women, but sometimes I have to wonder. There is so much TV devoted to women who are willing to compete for marriage to a complete stranger. We’ve lost so many of our female world leaders. (Remember Margaret Thatcher? Indira Gandhi? Golda Meir?) I look at my nieces--all hitting adolescence about now--and I wonder if they’ll be able to distinguish the right messages from the wrong ones. I think they will. After all, their mothers came of age in the seventies, but still managed to find both love and careers. They’re appalled when I tell them how, when I was their age, I was told I could never become President because I was a girl. And they all play their soccer and field hockey matches in much nicer fields.

So what do YOU think? Have we come a long way, baby? Or do we still have a lot of obstacles to overcome? What messages are we receiving these days that we should refute? Which ones should we embrace? Which ones AREN’T we getting out to our girls and young women that need to be front and center?

Posted by Elizabeth Bevarly in • Pop Culture
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