“We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving … We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins … We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others … We are the daughters of the feminists who said, “You can be anything,” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”
Courtney Martin – Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters
Feminism. It’s a dirty word… and I have a filthy mouth.
In the above quote, author Courtney Martin argues that this generation of women was told they could “be anything,” but instead heard that they had to “be everything.” It is a statement saturated with privilege and opportunity.
This mentality is a relatively new concept. Behind it is the belief that the sexes are generally equal and, because of this, we can reject the need for traditional feminism. There are female athletes, CEOs, mathematicians, authors, [insert function here]. More women than men go to college and earn their graduate degrees. The playing fields are basically leveled at this point.
This belief is what many are calling post-feminism. In post-feminism, women get to “enjoy the fruits of women’s post-70s equality … The gains won by first and second wave feminists [have] left the latest generation of women smug in their convictions of equality” (Jane Gehard). Women today benefit from all of the bra-burning and man-hating those crazy lesbians did back in the day.
This façade of equality is a dangerous practice. The primary focus should instead be on what scholars consider the third wave of feminism taking place today. The third wave focuses on expanding feminism to more than the second wave application of white, middle-class women by focusing on people-of-color feminism, working-class feminism, and pro-sex feminism. Third wave feminism seeks to incorporate issues as diverse as the women it advocates for. Bottom line: the third wave recognizes that women aren’t exactly on a leveled playing field yet.
You could “be anything.”
This statement, repeatedly said to young women and girls throughout the United States, is both a blessing and a curse. Just like a liberal arts degree: it’s applicable to almost every genre of employment, but it’s applicable to almost no genre of employment. So, where are you supposed to start?
We’ve had to plan our lives for our entire lives. Think back to when you were a young child. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a cool question at first, but it takes a turn for the worse when actually thinking about it becomes a reality.
Women today are told we can be anything because our mothers worked hard for this. They were the ones who took the kids to school, worked 9-5 jobs, and had dinner on the table at the end of the day. They were the products of mothers who advocated for equality in the 70s and they had to be the proof it was possible. Today, we know it’s possible, and we take it for granted. It is possible because of what was afforded to us through consciousness-raising at an earlier time. Taking this for granted will, and has, set us back.
You have to “be everything.”
What an immense pressure. Sheryl Sandberg was prompted to write “Lean In” because people kept asking her about how she was “doing it all.” She’s not doing it all – she does a lot, and she also has a lot of help. For many of us, our help is not going to come in the form of housekeeping, personal assistants, and supportive partners. It should, however, at least come from having equal opportunity. Earning less than some of our coworkers just because of our gender isn’t exactly fair, is it?
Remember that it is not necessary to be everything. It is not necessary (nor is it possible) to be perfect, know everything, or be 100 percent self-assured. What is necessary, however, is to take a breather and be yourself. Be patient. Be open-minded. Be an activist.
We don’t need to be everything, we just need to be equal.
Be a feminist.
There is a serious need to support the third wave of feminism. We cannot rest only upon the success feminists generated in the 1970s. Without advocacy for issues such as working-class feminism, people-of-color feminism, equal pay, and equal opportunity, women will continue to be less than. Accountable in Action is about providing a space for accountability and consciousness-raising, but it’s also about breeding equality.
Women and men alike – if you believe equal opportunity is a must between the sexes, don’t be shy to say you’re a feminist. And, be vocal about it. Don’t be shamed into silence.