A recent conversation with my kids’ pediatrician touched on the ever-evolving topic of women’s empowerment. He wondered why, after years of women’s empowerment, are we still not empowered? It’s an excellent question.
Empowerment starts early. If a teenage girl feels empowered, she is unlikely to give in to peer pressure or become involved with drugs or early sexual activity. Our pediatrician mentioned teen pregnancy as one of the unfortunate manifestations of a lack of empowerment. A look around the local mall provides a glimpse into many others — girls whose clothes and behavior are shockingly inappropriate.
We need only look at the entertainment world to see where girls get many ideas. Hollywood has always provided examples of air-brushed beauty to which no normal woman could compare, but modern entertainers are more than just pretty faces.
For example, popular singer Beyoncé is a one-woman empire. Having built an amazing career for herself, she could be a great example to young girls everywhere.
Instead, her recent offerings include a song about nabbing a man by performing sex acts in the back of a limo, sending a clear message that talent and brains don’t matter as long as you’re willing to take your clothes off. (Some fans point out that her real-life husband appears with her in the accompanying video. While true, that doesn’t really change anything, especially since the song is not about a committed relationship anyway.)
The singer has defended her music with a strange justification about it empowering women to take charge of their sexuality. No offense, Beyoncé, but that’s one of the stupider things I’ve ever heard.
With popular culture constantly reinforcing and glorifying such messages, it’s an awfully tough world for young women. Even without the influence of culture, girls seem to have an inborn need for validation and approval from others.
A polar opposite of negative pop culture influences is the recent “ban bossy” campaign. A group of several successful female executives seek to stop the use of the word “bossy” to describe assertive young girls; instead, they want to call them “leaders.”
On the one hand, the idea has merit — girls who take charge shouldn’t automatically be classified as pesky or aggressive, especially since similar qualities in boys are often embraced. On the other hand, being flat-out bossy is actually not a great quality in anyone (though it’s never nice to name-call, of course). But the “ban bossy” idea touches on the importance of self-esteem, the primary building block for girls to grow into empowered young women.
According to experts, girls’ self-esteem peaks at age 9. After that, it begins to plummet through the pre-teen and adolescent years. It can take many years for a young woman’s self-esteem to recover from the emotional turmoil of adolescence — often, the damage is permanent.
The road to empowerment is long, bumpy and may never really end. But we can help the young women in our lives by encouraging them, pointing out positive role models and helping them to discover and develop whatever unique qualities they possess.
Rebecca Horvath of
Johnson City is a wife, mother
and community activist.