She changes me, my 16-year old daughter. The world is so different than when I was her age.
I know how stilted and old that sounds, but alas, it is true. Sports available for women were limited to cheerleading and field hockey in my hometown. Women guides in my chosen profession, outdoor education, were a rarity. Outdoor equipment came in two colors: navy and army green. Sizes were always for men and we fit ourselves into them. We ate hot dogs often and tuna casserole was such a thing. My parents’ cocktail parties (before booz became a problem) closely resembled a set of Mad Men and a man going to the moon was an event embedded in my memory forever.
Amidst this vastly different landscape, my daughter and her peers at times simply take my breath away. Here’s a few threads I notice:
A body is beautiful. For my daughter and her friends, a variety of body sizes and shapes for women are considered amazing. Big, round bottoms. Strong legs. Natural hair. Less make-up (no blue eye shadow.) To a large degree, the stereotypical twig thin, long-blonde hair icon of beauty I grew up with has been pushed aside in favor of skin of many colors, individualized gutsy outfits, and proud feminine bodies with skin exposed.
To this I say, Hallelujiah, as in this world food is seen as healthy and being a size zero not a character flaw. I love this shift and am amazed at the decrease in body shaming and comparison amongst she and her peers. It happens, but there is also a consciousness about it that stands strong.
The world is small. Hannah and many of her classmates have or will travel to other countries, including ones very different from their own. I was the first person in my family to leave the USA as a student and it was to Yorkshire in England, hardly a hotbed of cultural diversity. But she and her friends have seen and been in the world, and their empathy for places and people far removed from their protected world of Central Oregon is high. They see the world more fully, with more complexity, and nuance.
Queer does not only mean strange or odd—A fact that I, as an English major, am still getting my head around. Many young people today identify with the term queer versus heterosexual, and while it is different than gay, it does not mean homosexual. They fluidity of the gender spectrum extends to men and women—boys wear nail polish and girls shave their heads, rocking the either or paradigm of my youth that focused in high school on labels and categories rather than paradox. As uncomfortable as this at times makes me for fear of getting pronouns wrong, I am learning that my boxes do not define the world and the spectrum is truly myriad and rich.
Periods are not laden with shame—like they used to be. As a teenager we used to hide our “sanitary products” at any cost and talking about or sharing openly your period timing, discomfort or hassle was simply never done. Young women today openly seem to handle it being part of their lives like shampooing and using the rest room, making it much more normal. This ease extends to birth control and protection, which are openly discussed and shared, rather than hidden and shoved down.
Strength is sought after and pursued. Back in the day, women were expected to be delicate and not smelly, pursuing athletic interests without ambition or focus. Today, women’s sports while still nowhere near as viable an option economically as men’s, are more accessible for women and girls from a young age. Strong is good and weightlifting a sought after class. Who knew?
Smart is cool—and my daughter and her friends show theirs. When I was their age, being smart as a girl often seemed to threaten others and was best kept under a bushel. Today, girls work hard and excel in their academic and intellectual aspiration and pursuit.
Now, I know it is not all good news and I am no Pollyanna. We have yet to reach true gender equity. The pay rates for women compared to men have, after all, only increased from 60 cents on the dollar when I graduated high school to a whooping 73 cents today, and women continue to hold very few truly top positions in government or industry.
But sometimes, when I see Hannah strongly debating, sweating hard to perform physically, and imagining her wide open future of work that matters in the world completely unfettered by limiting expectations placed on her, my heart breaks open with joy and hope. They are fierce, these young women, and they are roaring and acting in ways that I am sure can and will and are changing the world. The world needs these young women. Men need them. I need them.
Principal & Founder
you tell me not to quiet down cause
my opinions make me less beautiful
but I was not made with a fire in my belly
so I could be put out
i was not made with a lightness in my tongue
so I could be easy to swallow
I was made heavy
half blade and half silk
difficult to forget but
not easy for the mind to follow