Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A girl can dream

When my girls were little, they would come upon a display like this one and feel that one particular doll was calling out to them. "This one, Mama, isn't she pretty?" But in reality, of course, all the dolls were identical, distinguished only by their clothing and hairstyles or the pursing of their lips.

I was discussing feminism with a friend the other day; a friend who, like me, really liked the idea of Hilary for president, but eventually couldn't buy into the reality of it, and found she preferred Obama. As veterans of the 70's we thought it would be great to have a woman president, but this particular woman just came with too much baggage, too much looking back, not enough looking forward.

But like many women of our generation, we're sad that it just couldn't have been. Could it be, as some have said, that America is more chauvinist than racist? Today's girls mock the feminism of our youth -- it seems, I think, pointless to them: after all, women have way more opportunities now than we had growing up.

Yet in some ways things don't seem to me to have changed much. When I was in college, at an all girls school, we would go off on buses to "mixers" at nearby all boy schools. And the boys would form a gauntlet, two rows of young men stretching from the door of the bus all the way down the street to where the dance was being held. As we stepped out in single file the guys would grab the pretty ones and snake them off to their respective fraternities. If you made it all the way to the dance hall, you knew you were the dregs, though there still might be a chance you could hook up for the evening.

Now, of course, that tradition seems almost barbaric. But isn't it still true at some level? Isn't that what makeup, and fashion, and hair dye, and 3-inch heels, and all the other trappings of femininity are all about? "Pick me," our daughters cry, as if they are all essentially identical dolls, stacked on a shelf, waiting for Mr. Right to come along and choose one to take home. And if you are not chosen, or if you are returned, somewhat shop-worn, to the shelf; what then?

It's discouraging, for sure. But wait: isn't the reason we decided Hilary wouldn't suit because her game was all about the image and the posturing; illusion and positioning? And if we are drawn to Obama, isn't it at least partly because he seems real, honest, direct, willing to confront the truth?

Yes, we decided to put this particular doll back on the shelf. But I'm hoping that the doll we chose instead will end up taking out the shelf altogether; end the pretense that says some dolls are prettier than others, or that it's all about appearances, and focus instead on the fact that we are all unique and each uniquely valuable, individuals linked by a common commitment to all humanity and a respect and appreciation for our differences.

Wouldn't it be great if each of us could be educated and encouraged with respect for that individuality, and could then step confidently off the shelf into a brighter future? I know. It's silly, 70's idealism. But a girl can dream, can't she?

1 comment:

C. Robin Janning said...

oh yes, a girl can dream -- and she must dream! The dream is an important thing after all, because always after the dream comes the reality. We keep dreaming and those dreams influence the reality.