College-aged women are living in a world that looks drastically different from their grandmothers’ and great-grandmothers’ worlds. Hemlines have gone up, while oppression has gone down. We are in a time of legal equality and unprecedented ample opportunity. Young women graduating from their universities or community colleges can choose to be lawyers, doctors, artists, senators, pastors, or stay-at-home mothers. The generations of women who came before us paid our price. It is through their tireless hard work that females today in developed nations have the world at their fingertips.
Undoubtedly, there is still work to be done. Women continue to be less prominent in many areas, including politics and the workforce. In the United States, women comprise only 20% of the Senate and 18.2% of the House of Representatives. Women in the world of business fare even more poorly. Women hold only 4.6% of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies. Outside of developed nations, women are denied even the most basic of rights. They are living in oppression and degradation; and cope with genital mutilation, maternal mortality, and sex trafficking of epidemic proportions.
When we look at the statistics within the U.S. and read information on the condition of women worldwide, college-aged women can easily be overwhelmed. There are many things that need to change in order to make this world a better place for women to inhabit. Most of these needed changes require large-scale, dramatic cultural and political shifts that can seem impossible to a 19-year-old struggling with calculus and relationship drama in her dorm room. There is one simple step, however, that can be taken in order to ease the maltreatment of women. It will not solve gender inequality worldwide, it will not put an immediate end to sex trafficking, it will not hire more female CEOs. But it will bring about positive change.
Ladies, we must be kinder to other women.
Women have a reputation for catfights, bitch-fests, and a talent for stabbing other women in the back. Rachel McAdams personified the ultimate ‘Mean Girl’ as conniving, nasty Regina George in Mean Girls. The epidemic of the clique does not end in high school. It continues through college, and passes the college phase as it ventures into “Mama Drama” and “The Stay-At-Home/Working” debate. When we forget that our opinions are not truth, but merely our opinions, we open the door for judgmental, nasty words that tear each other down. We criticize women for being too pretty or not pretty enough. Too fat or too skinny. Too smart or too stupid. Too liberal or too conservative. Too religious or not religious enough. Too girly or too masculine. Too bossy or too meek.
The ‘Mean Girl’ creates a toxic environment that dramatically hinders the advancement of women. In a world that does not always treat women with respect and dignity, women must not add to the negative treatment. We have to rise above it. Who knows better the difficulties of being female than another female? We should respond to women with grace and understanding, not MORE disrespect.
Must men be a part of making the world a better place for women? Absolutely. I know many who do, and some who do not. Does misogyny have to be eradicated? Absolutely. But today I cannot control a man. Today I cannot control another woman. Today I can control only myself. Today I am choosing to be a “Kind Girl”. A girl who cheers on other women to chase their dreams. A girl who is a shoulder to cry on and a friend to laugh with. A girl who intentionally pursues friendships with women of different cultures and backgrounds to learn about and to celebrate differences. A girl with a strict judgment-free-zone. A girl who can tell hard truths in kind and loving ways. A girl who refuses to participate in nasty gossip or insulting “jokes”. A girl who smiles at strangers.
When I choose to be kind to other females, I am not just empowering the women around me, I am also empowering myself. When I choose to create an atmosphere of encouragement, I get to dwell in that atmosphere as well. When I refuse to engage in vicious gossip, I prove to myself that I am stronger than the negative vibes that surround me. When I create friendships with women who are different than me, I benefit from the knowledge and perspective that these other women give me. When I smile, somebody smiles back. With every woman I champion, I can find a woman who will reciprocate and champion me.
Kindness then becomes, in a way, the best kind of selfishness. I want to live in a world where women are treated with respect and dignity; where I am treated with respect and dignity. When I pursue kindness and treat women as they deserve to be treated, I open the door for others to treat me as I deserve to be treated.
In the chaotic mix of tests and papers, dating and friendships, work and school, we 21st century women may not be able to solve gender inequality in 2014. However, we can be kind to other women. We can stand by each other. We can remember that when we empower other women, we are also empowering ourselves.
Image via Flickr: Kheel Center