I have been thinking a lot and having conversations lately about how we influence people, sometimes when we don't even realize it. This has reminded me that when we are aware of the impact we have on others, we also begin to see the way we change ourselves.
I am blessed to have a wonderful group of friends and neighbors in my life. Three of them have daughters all about 2 1/2 years old. I love the girls dearly and enjoy watching them grow and interacting with them. They have clearly reached an age where they are absorbing everything around them and trying to make sense of what it all means. As a feminist psychologist who spends much of my time studying and working with girls, I am a bit worried. There are so many negative and potentially damaging messages in our world targeted to girls about how they are "supposed" to look, act, feel and think. I know that despite their parents' best efforts (which are incredible!) it is impossible to protect these girls forever from such messages.
Thinking about this has made me especially aware of my own behavior--I think carefully about what I say and do around them. In addition to making sure I tell them how smart, kind and talented they are (not just how cute they look), I have made the intention to practice loving kindness toward myself as well. I want to model for them the possibilities of being a woman that are different from what they see on TV or in magazines. This is not always an easy task--I have my own self-doubts and insecurities. But when they ask me why my fingernails aren't painted, instead of thinking "boy I need a manicure" I tell them that I like get my hands dirty in the garden or I don't want to worry about how my nails look when I am doing yoga. Or when they come to a party at my house and I am wearing a fancy dress I make an intentional effort to play with them as much as I would if I were wearing jeans and a t-shirt. I don't want to be the one who teaches them that girls should focus on looking good for others rather than having fun. I know that I will mess up and I am sure they will learn things from me that I wish they hadn't --sorry in advance to their parents. But being intentional about what messages I send to them about what it means to be a woman has reminded me to think about messages I send to myself on a daily basis. Am I telling myself that I am smart and talented, or worrying how I look in a new dress? Do I forgive myself for making mistakes and try to learn something from the experience, or am I being critical and harsh toward myself?
The work I do doesn't always provide me with instant feedback--or any feedback for that matter. It can take months to hear about an article I am trying to get published, course evaluations only happen once a semester (although I usually sneak in a mid-semester one as well) and I may never know how my activism work will turn out. It can be challenging to pour my heart and soul into my work and not ever be sure whether it changes anything or anyone. I cherish the times that catch me by surprise, when I realize that the work I am doing does impact others. One my interns recently wrote about her experience working on a project with me..."Through collaborative activism, we should be able to create changes that we wish to see not only in ourselves and our communities, but, in each other through the work that we will be doing over the course of the internship." Reading her reflection reminded me that 1) students do listen to us and are not just checking facebook every 5 minutes and 2) through collaborative activism we are all the agent of change AND the target of change. Including myself.
So, while I intend to continue to strive to be a positive influence for the girls in my life and find joy in the moments when my work seems to make a difference, at the end of the day I remember that ultimately the only person I can change is myself. Sometimes when you plant a seed intended for others, you realize you planted your own tree.
Which leads me to one of my favorite quotes. I heard this for the first time during a yoga class I was taking while in graduate school. It had a profound impact on me and I now have it hanging on my office door. It reminds me to be authentic, to live passionately, and to stay true to myself.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
― Marianne Williamson
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.