My Best Advice for Those Who Are #NotThere Yet
There are a lot of worthy causes and organizations to focus on for International Women's Day; like Girls Not Brides, Half the Sky, and today's trending women's movement #notthere which is meant to bring continued attention to the fact that women are still not there when it comes to gender equality. When discussing women's rights, we are confronted with questions like What can we do? or How can we make a change? I'm all about perspective and gratitude. As an American woman, I'm grateful that I have so many rights that don't exist for women in other parts of the world, although I don't discount the importance of issues like equal pay for women. For International Women's Day, I'd like to talk about a few things that have helped me as a woman.
Embrace Your Femininity. Celebrate Your Beauty.
By this I don't mean put on a skirt and some makeup (unless of course you like to). If you aren't into that sort of thing, then by all means don't do it. I rather mean to say that we shouldn't forget that the word feminism contains the root for "feminine" which means a quality unique to a woman. We don't have to behave like men in order to get fair treatment. At an event, the woman behind Miss Representation was criticized (by a fellow woman) for the fact that she was wearing a skirt and was done-up in a feminine way. That is just so sad to me. The point of lending strength to the female kind shouldn't be to hide what is feminine, but to celebrate it in whichever forms that entails. To prove that we are more than just our looks doesn't mean that we have to cover up our femininity or make ourselves less beautiful. It simply means that beauty doesn't have to be about being sexually attractive to men. Does that mean not being sexy? Not necessarily. The more I do style shoots for this site, the more I come to see that my own personal style and my brand is somewhat sexy, and so I embrace that. Does that mean I plan to pose in my undies? Um...hell no. It simply means I accept myself regardless of what others may think or say. Embracing your own beauty is about finding out what makes you feel most beautiful, whether that means being kind or something as frivolous as a new shade of nail polish. My point is, we don't have to discount beauty in order to be strong or to be taken seriously. Women have an inborn need to feel beautiful, and we need to embrace that, not shun it. I never try to teach my daughters that looks don't matter, or that only inner beauty is important, but rather what makes them feel beautiful is important. This has helped them, especially my older daughter nearing her preteen years, to cope with the challenges of social life at school. It's heartbreaking to hear all of the ways her peers try to knock her down based on her looks or what she is wearing. But aside from a few tears, she makes it out unscathed, because she has embraced her own style and knows what she likes. She puts her self worth in what she likes and what she feels most comfortable in, rather than what will please someone else.
Fear is Just Something You Feel, Strong is Something You Are
I often get inspiration from one-on-one conversations I have with my friends. During a conversation I had with a new friend last summer, he mentioned he could help me with something regarding websites. He quickly stopped himself to say, "I'm sure you could figure it out yourself!" I said, "Yeah, of course I could! I don't know why I get so intimidated by doing new things." It had me wondering why do I get so intimidated? I went on to tell him that I think it's quite a female thing...that we have a tendency to get intimidated at the thought of new things or doing things on our own. It had me deeply wondering why. Why do some of us get so easily intimidated? Is it just the unfortunate remnants of the days when a woman truly depended on a man to support her, to buy property for her, to drive her around, etc.? What gives us that initial emotional reaction of fear or doubt of what if I fail? whereas men typically have the initial logical thought of what do I need to do to accomplish this task? I know men have fears too, especially fears of failure, but I think women tend to have those fears so much more often and even when it comes to simple, little things. Is it merely the fear of the unknown? Or is it something more? Is it partly due to being depicted as being less capable that we've come to fear deep down that we are incapable? I think for me it simply boils down to feelings of fear and doubt. I was raised by a very strong, independent mother, and growing up, I thought she was without fear. As I've grown and gotten to know her as more of a friend, I know that she wasn't without fear or doubts, but she rather did what needed to be done regardless of her feelings. God has been pressing this on me a lot lately, that fear and doubt will continue to creep back in; in my work, my relationships, and every area of my life. It isn't my responsibility to not have those feelings. In fact, I used to greatly struggle with shame for feeling fear. I though being strong meant never being afraid. I was also waiting, after all these years of struggling, to finally feel strong. Not too long ago, I was in bed praying, and I started crying. I said, "God, I just don't feel strong. And I don't feel brave." He said that strong isn't a feeling, and being brave isn't a feeling. Those are not emotions. Fear is the feeling. And strong is something you choose to be. Brave is something you be. The next time you feel intimidated, remember that it is just a feeling. Strength and courage are the actions you can take, and must take, to overcome your fears and accomplish your goals.
Men Are the Answer, Not the Problem
We cannot always be our own advocates. I would never claim to be a feminist, because I think they have a tendency to vilify men and to put them on the defensive. But we need men. More importantly, we need men to play their roles, and how can they do that if women are trying to play both female and male. I struggle with not wanting to be supported by a man - not wanting to be financially dependent on a man, but I have to remember that good men have a strong desire to take care of a woman. Of course I still tell my daughters all the time to get a degree, make enough money to support themselves, and then fall in love! Though the whole "I don't need a man" attitude is in part what is hurting the cause for women's rights. The world is not filled with nothing but men who want to put us down. And the men who do wish to put us down are not going to listen to women. They are not going to follow our lead. They are going to follow the lead of other men. So we need the good men in our corners, doing what they do best - supporting us, protecting us, and fighting for us. How can they do that if we make them feel ashamed simply for being men?
If You Don't Know Your Worth, You'll Settle for Less than You Deserve.
I can't complain too much about my plight. Like I said, I'm an American and am thankful for my rights to voting, to education, to marry whoever I wish, and to so many other things that aren't available to women all over the world. But I do know how important it is on any level to know my worth and to not compromise that. A good example in my personal life is my job. I freelance now and have full control over this site. That means I get email after email from companies wanting to do business with me. But they each have a bottom line and a budget and let's face it, they all want to get promotion for their businesses for the smallest dollar sign possible. It's tricky in sales and marketing when you don't always have set rates, and everything is up for negotiation. I quickly realized that if I didn't have a set minimum of what my time and exposure on my site is worth, that companies would take advantage of me. They're all looking out for themselves. I had to start looking out for myself. There is the fear that demanding too much would cause me to lose clients, but that was a fear I had to face. More importantly, I had to accept that I'd rather lose clients (and certainly have) rather than compromising my worth. Some potential clients either don't believe in that worth, or they aren't in a place to give me what I deserve. Either way, I know I'm better off passing up those opportunities. Women, please, please if you take away anything from that, know that the same principal should be applied to your dating life. Never let loneliness cause you to compromise on the things you need and deserve. Be patient enough to wait for someone who can truly see what you're worth.
Focus on Yourself, Not the Problem.
It's tempting during tough times to play the blame game. We can be mad at others, at God, or simply mad at our own circumstances. And though sometimes our struggles do come as a direct result of another person's actions, we still need to hold ourselves responsible for the things we can control. A few years ago I was struggling to get back on my feet, and quite frankly I still am due to a back injury that prevents me from being able to have a real job. (I can't sit nor stand for too long at a time before the pain gets to be unbearable.) It was easy in my situation to blame someone else and to feed into that frustration, but one of my friends kept saying, "Just focus on yourself." This became my new mantra, and it was so powerful for me. Anytime I felt like I was being held back or felt angry about my circumstances, I recited "focus on yourself, focus on yourself." And I did. I'd focus all of my energy on the things that were within my control. I redirected all of my negative thoughts into thoughts of what I could do to better my situation. This led to more physical therapy and more time working on this website. And though I am not where I want to be just yet, I do know that it's a possibility, and that has meant the world to me. It's meant even more to know that I accomplished it all on my own. No matter how hopeless your situation, there is always something within your control, even if it's simply your own thoughts. You have the power to get yourself through anything.
I wish that last thought could be applied more to the women's rights movement. I feel like the conversation of the things we can do to make a change are overshadowed by the nagging and often pushy collective voice of we deserve more! I think the best we can do is keep the focus positive and continue to inspire each other. And of course if you are financially blessed and able to support causes, do so. To the strong women in my life who constantly support and inspire me (mom, Jess, Kim, Stacy and so many others), thank you!
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