For International Women's Day, I listened to Nobel Peace Prize winner and self-described feminist Leymah Gbowee share the stage with her daughters and activist friends for a mother-daughter audience at my former all girls high school. At the celebration, Ms. Gbowee shared many gems of wisdom to the point that I felt chills through my body.
She discussed the importance of dominating one's space, not as a bully or in a way that is disrespectful, but because if one doesn't own their space, someone else will. She discussed her refusal to separate any parts of her identity as an African, a woman and a feminist.
She and the women she shared the floor with discussed their differences, the ways they overcome misogynistic impulses from how they've been raised, and how they channel compassion to make change instead of criticism. What stood out to me most was her and her daughters' discussion of how there are many ways to be a woman and to be a feminist.
Also for International Women's Day, pop icon and musical artist Pink voiced an opinion on how to be a woman with a Twitter shout out to women who "use their brains, strength, work ethic, and talents" rather than their bodies, noting that sometimes that means less money and attention regardless of what is deserved.
I saw the tweet reposted by Amber Rose, with a lengthy caption that, among other things, calls the tweet "down(ing) each other instead of uplifting," and suggests that Pink's viewpoint was classist.
While I respect Amber's views and the real circumstances she has had to navigate in order to achieve financial stability, I find myself struggling to agree with her. I think it's time we stop criticizing women like Tia Mowry and Ayesha Curry for saying they don't enjoy dressing scantily and would rather highlight their skills instead of their bodies.
By celebrating women using their brains, Pink is not slut-shaming. The narrative I see being told here is that as women, we can only be one or other and to celebrate one automatically condemns the other — that we can use our brains or our bodies but not both. But the reality is both frequently play a part in the paths our lives take.
I find myself sitting in an odd place.
I enjoy my body and my beauty. I've competed in pageants, I've been a brand ambassador for a national beauty campaign, I love a bikini, I am constantly chasing lighting for that right selfie, and I work out to maintain a certain aesthetic. Arguably, that aesthetic has played a part in my career successes. There are also countless academic studies that support the notion physical attractiveness is linked to wealth, career growth, and most recently, even academic success.
On the other hand, as a career coach and a vendor for the NYC Department of Education, I work with both women and teen girls on professional skills, as well as confidence and beauty. In workshops with teen girls, we do value exercises and I help them identify their assets beyond their physical shell. Girls as young as 14 will note that there is an unfair attention paid to women's bodies, style of dress, and beauty choices. In Women Who Don't Wait in Line, Girls Who Code founder, Reshma Saujani even reflects on the attention paid to her dress over her ideas during her campaign for NYC public advocate years ago.
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