*Warning—salty language ahead!
Women are issued directives daily—sometimes so obviously, it’s impossible to ignore—like when strangers suggest that we smile.
But often the messages are so subtle we don’t even recognize them. They are embedded in advertisements, in fashion, in the way we speak about other women, and even in the plots of our entertainment. Everyone has an idea of what we should (and shouldn’t) do.
But in the words of Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
Fuck what society thinks we should do!
But are there imperatives that women should follow—not because society dictates it but because we need them to live our best lives?
I think so.
Of course, these life lessons are rarely taught to us. Most of us learn the hard way. I know I did.
Everything I once planned fell apart. My career, my home, my marriage—all of it. The life I built seemed sturdy once, but it was always a house of cards just waiting for the wind to blow. But through these experiences, I learned that I am capable, strong, and resourceful. On my journey, I came across so many other women telling their stories. These women were also capable, strong, and resourceful. Strangers reached out and became friends. A circle of empowerment grew and expanded, each of us lifting up the others.
I don’t really care what society has to say about how I should look or behave or about their markers of relevancy or beauty. I don’t plan to sit on the sidelines of my life and fade out of it. Societal standards and the media make it difficult to reclaim our lives, and our time, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
This isn’t a bucket list; it’s a manifesto to take back our lives.
We should accept our own intrinsic worth. Period.
Our worthiness doesn’t have to be earned. We don’t have to measure up or weigh-in or meet any other criteria to be worthy of love.
We should stop apologizing for existing.
Women apologize more than men—and it’s time to stop. Expressing our appreciation is an alternative to constantly saying sorry. For instance, we can thank others for waiting rather than apologizing for being late. Being less apologetic helps us be more assertive and more focused on gratitude than excuses.
We should define ourselves as more than our relationships with other people.
When we define who we are by our relationships, we aren’t showing the world how much we love those people but how little we value our own identity. Exploring our interests and figuring out what brings us joy is an important part of deciding who we are—as well as who we want to be.
We should redefine aging for women the world over.
Societal standards dismiss older women as irrelevant. But we get to define what aging means to us. We are never too old to wear what we like, to explore new interests, or to embrace a new relationship or career. We don’t have to resign ourselves to a quiet old age and the slow decay of our own bodies. We can still be sexual, sensual, trendy, vivacious, curious, adventurous, active, and whatever else we decide we want to be for as long as we like.
Befriending women outside of our own generation helps us avoid harmful stereotypes and support each other throughout the lifespan.
We should throw out the idea that self-care is selfish and self-sacrifice equates to love.
We are better humans, daughters, sisters, mothers, workers, and partners when we take good care of ourselves. This looks like staying hydrated, eating well, staying active, addressing sexual health, educating our minds, getting enough sleep, and generally doing all the things that help us to be happy, healthy humans. We don’t need to burn ourselves out for anyone else.
We should enthusiastically support other women.
Throw out the misogynistic bullshit of any statement that women aren’t good friends. Stop repeating this massive lie for future generations to learn and parrot to their children. If you don’t know any strong, wonderful women, you’re either spending time with the wrong women or you are personally problematic.
We should support women in elected office, in leadership positions, and in relationships—seeing women as allies rather than competitors. We’ve all heard that empowered women empower women, and we need to empower ourselves to be those women. This includes all women, not just white, cis-gendered ones.
We should cultivate body positivity.
Women tend to bond over body bashing instead of celebrating our unique and individual beauty. Women’s bodies have the capacity to do amazing things like house and birth children and feed them—whether we choose to do this or not. But our bodies can also be strong, sensual, and sexual.
We can build endurance, get stronger, and reach new levels of fitness, but body positivity should also extend to healthy sexual attitudes. Getting rid of slut-shaming and the discomfort with the idea of masturbation and throwing out the antiquated and socially constructed idea of virginity is a start.
We should have some level of independence.
Financial dependence too often keeps women in toxic relationships. Being able to be financially independent is a valuable life skill on many levels. We also need to cultivate emotional independence, recognize co-dependent tendencies, and learn to have full enriched lives regardless of our relationship status.
We should vote.
White women have only had the right to vote in this country for about 100 years—women of color have had that right for even lesser. Our ancestors fought like hell to give us the opportunity to elect the officials who represent us. We need to show up at the polls (or vote by mail) for every single local, state, and federal election that comes around because it is our right and privilege to have a say in our government.
We should do no harm but take no shit.
The amount of shit women deal with starts early when our bodies are sexualized by dress code policies and adults start giving unwanted feedback on our bodies. It follows us through life, catcalling from the sidelines, continuing to police our wardrobe at work, dictating our timelines and responsibilities, and then dismissing us as we age. But we don’t have to sit quietly and take it. Instead, we can learn how to avoid being personally harmful while drawing a firm line on the bullshit with healthy boundaries for our bodies and our lives.
Fuck society’s rules and the never-ending invitations to smile. We’ll smile when we’re left alone to live our lives in the manner of our choosing.
Let’s start now.
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” ~ Arundhati Roy