Why We Need to Encourage Girls to Be Strong and Independent

I am undoubtedly an opinionated woman. I have been lucky enough to grow up with a strong, positive female influence; for the most part, it really hasn’t occurred to me that my opinion might be less important because I am not a man. I feel confident in my ability to make my own way through life, to speak up when I have something to say, and to teach others it’s OK to do the same. I have no doubt that my thoughts and opinions are just as valid as any other person’s, male or female. For me, there is no question that we all deserve the same rights and respect.

And yet, there are still times when I find myself apologizing for being too opinionated and strong-willed, for trying to live my life to the fullest. I still find myself hiding my intelligence and confidence to make other people feel more comfortable. I frequently stress about my day when I get home; did I come across as too strong? Did I give the wrong impression? Should I have explained myself more? Or less? Was I too honest, did I share too much about myself, talk too loudly about my passions and successes?

Photo by Zulmaury Saavedra — Unsplash

As confident as I am, these are constant sources of stress and doubt. Part of the reason is likely my genetic makeup and my natural inclination toward wanting people to accept me; having grown up as an only child, it’s not always easy for me to share myself with others. But a large part of it is the outward reaction the world at large has when a woman dares to be true to herself and blatantly disregards the judgement of those around her. I have been influenced by a lifetime of subtle hints to be more lady-like, look prettier, and be less aggressive; I have endured outright name-calling and hatred for being bossy and opinionated.

For all my outward confidence and faith in myself, I am still a woman living through the current times. Like so many other women, I have also been afraid to reject a man’s unwanted advances for fear of his retaliation. I have had strange men threaten me, pull my pants down in public, kiss me without permission, and grab my breasts. I have listened to coworkers tell me in graphic detail what sexual favors I should perform to get my shift covered and treat me like I’m nothing simply for being me. I have let men tell me how I should feel or behave. I have let men who claim to care about me get away with ignoring my physical needs because they are too complicated and inconvenient. I have let men make me feel like it’s my responsibility to take care of them sexually, so they don’t leave, cheat, treat me like garbage, or make me feel worthless.

A self-proclaimed strong, no-bullshit, independent woman, apparently afraid to disagree with or stand up to a man? I’m ashamed that it has happened as many times as it has. Every single one of those men felt entitled to this behavior, regardless of my feelings on the matter. And at the time, they had convinced me of the normalcy of this behavior or my inability to make a difference if I spoke up. They made me feel I was being difficult or overly emotional if I put up a fuss or expected to be treated better. These actions that most women are quite familiar with quietly strip away our dignity and teach us to be okay with it. They erode our self-respect and cause us to let others disrespect us.

Photo by Joshua Rawson Harris — Unsplash

This abuse of power is happening even more frequently to the women who haven’t had the benefits that I have, who don’t feel they can speak up or expect any better because no one has ever been in their corner before.

Many women are largely unaware of how deeply their hearts and minds have been broken down by other people’s careless abuse. These negative actions are allowed by us because of the impossibly heavy burdens of outside expectations and societal pressures; we have always known it’s just easier not to focus on it, because that’s just the way it is. So many women have forgotten how mighty they are and have instead succumbed to constant criticism, disdain, and abuse. We have unfortunately learned it’s easier to make ourselves smaller, to put ourselves in a box that can be stowed away for convenience. We have learned to downplay our true feelings because someone else decided they were too hysterical, loud, wrong, or even simply inconvenient.

When I get discouraged, I look back at history and realize we are making progress. I look back to the not-so-distant past when women were not allowed to vote, own property, or make their own choices regarding their bodies and reproductive options. Other people had decided what rights we were allowed, and for many, many years this was deemed acceptable. This still makes me angry, but it shows we have made progress. Women now unapologetically fight against this tyranny and oppression, and I’m so proud to be a part of that fight.

Photo by Elyssa Fahndrich — Unsplash

As little as two years ago, sexual harassment was nearly unchecked; those abusers and manipulators expected to continue getting away with it. Now, thanks to the #metoo movement and some amazing women who were brave enough to start the conversation and keep it going, there are consequences to inappropriate and demoralizing behavior. The world is starting to realize that women are no longer willing to sit back and be treated like props in a man’s world.

We will no longer accept inequality as a given. We will not accept being treated as sex objects, regardless of how we dress. We will not let men get away with unacceptable behavior because it’s easier than challenging the status quo. We will not accept being paid less than anyone else for doing the same damn job, nor will we accept being disrespected while doing it. We will not let anyone else tell us what we can or can’t do with our bodies because it’s no one else’s business unless we say it is.

Certain politicians and leaders are looking to replicate the time when anyone different from themselves had no voice to fight them with and we are dangerously close to sliding backwards. We as compassionate humans must all declare these attempts absolutely unacceptable on all counts. This is the time to keep fighting, to hold strong to everything we have gained, and to keep pushing for more until every living soul is treated equally.

Photo by Matteo Paganelli — Unsplash

Not all men behave this way, and if you are one of the men out there who treats women with respect than we salute you; please keep it up! But this sexism is so ingrained in our culture that so many people don’t even realize their actions are hurtful because it has been deemed acceptable for so long.

Every single person needs to look deeper into their behavior and ask if they could do better, or if they can take a stand and stop it next time it happens. I myself have been guilty of letting this toxic thinking continue when I agreed women weren’t as good in certain areas because it made me feel I didn’t have to be lumped in with the stereotype. I have put another woman down for doing what makes her happy and being who she is because society has taught us we need to compete. I’m even more ashamed of this as I am of not standing up to the men seeking to exploit me; women have enough struggles without turning on each other and helping the world keep us down. We need to support each other and encourage others to be who they are, not judge them to feel better about ourselves. We need to focus on lifting other people up instead of holding them back, regardless of sex, race, religion, or any other detail of our humanness.

Photo by Matthew Henry — Burst

It’s equally important to keep educating boys and men to not only be tolerant and respectful to others, but to remind them it’s OK to feel their emotions and talk about them to help end this toxic masculinity that has been shoved down their throats since birth. Men are brought up to believe they are expected to act a certain way, to be manly and strong, and to never speak of “weak, emotional crap.” But somewhere in their manly teachings, many young men also learn that they are entitled to be in control of those around them, to seek out being the strongest man in the room at all costs.

There are many examples of this hyper-masculinity in both entertainment and real life; boys being taunted for being too girly or weak, the sensitive boy getting beat up for showing emotion and not taking it like a man, fathers who can’t relate to their sons because their father failed to talk to them honestly, and men who don’t understand how to respect others because they were never shown that kind of respect themselves.

But boys are not allowed to ‘just be boys’ when what they are doing is abusing or disrespecting other people, regardless of where they learned it or how many times they’ve gotten away with it.

Women are simply asking to be respected for who and what we are, and to be able to feel comfortable in our daily lives. We want to feel that no one will take advantage of us, overpower us, force anything on us, or violate us in any way, and we certainly cannot accept that younger generations of women may have to go through this as well. Mothers shouldn’t have to keep teaching their daughters not to walk alone at night, to never accept a drink she hasn’t seen poured, or to dress in a way that doesn’t incite a man to misbehave.

Photo by Александр Раскольников — Unsplash

As a society, we cannot continue to let girls fear for their safety on a daily basis or keep shaming the victims of sexual and physical assault because it is easier than solving the actual problem.

Ignorance may be bliss (for some), but negligence, apathy, and the disregard of human rights is unacceptable. Now that we are all awake to the issue, if you are not part of the solution then you are part of the problem. Fight for the right of your daughters, and their daughters after them, to grow up knowing they are valid and safe.

Photo by Miguel Bruna Unsplash

Ex-chef/cook, current food-lover, equal parts adventurer and stay-at-home introvert, photography enthusiast, and spiritual explorer. Also, cats dig me.

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