#GrowingUpAGirl: To label me a strong woman is just telling me something I already knew

Fundamentally there is a beautiful strength in being an out and proud feminine woman. In this day and age when traditional gender roles are being challenged and broken, there is still an enormous amount of pressure for women to conform to prejudged molds that ridicule “masculine” ambitions and play on double-standards when it comes to sex and beauty. A woman can only be beautiful OR smart. There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room and at times it can seem almost impossible to find your own voice as people are yelling at you from all sides with predetermined narratives of how you should act, speak, work, and play.

I am blessed to be surrounded by a group of strong women that I can call my friends and my allies. Beautiful, smart, and ambitious, I look around me and see them standing at the forefront of critical international security sector reform and rule of law programs in the Middle East and North Africa, breaking the corporate glass ceiling and standing out from male competitors, dominating market strategies and rising quickly through the ranks, and taking a holistic approach when it comes to the care of victims suffering from PTSD. They are brazen and forthright in their passions and convictions and it is inspiring. And they do it all with a self-assured swagger that I wish more women would emulate.

While I love seeing such wonderful examples of strong women in my personal life and it’s even more refreshing to see traditional images of women and gender stereotypes challenged by the likes of Amy Schumer, Lena Dunham, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler; there is still a pervasive belief that a woman’s worth is not measured by the number of degrees she holds or her intellectual curiosity or career promotions or even political and policy contributions she makes but her external worth and whether she correctly balances sexy with an expected quiet femininity.

If a women uses brash and vulgar language she is told she is being too crude and needs to act more like a lady. Female comedians have been leading the charge, asking why a woman is admonished for making a vulgar joke that a man would receive praise for and heaps of laughter. Recent pushback by lead actresses, such as Anne Hathaway, Jennifer Lawrence, Emma Stone, and Mindy Kaling against blatantly sexist interview questions that are more concerned about their diet and beauty regimen practices than the depth of their onscreen character or successful writing and production milestones is refreshing. But it’s still there, all for the world to see. When a woman like Maggie Gyllenhaal is told she is too old (37 years old) to play the love interest of a 55 year old man, a woman’s physical change automatically equates to plastic surgery, and the curve of Beyoncé’s booty is more important than the fact she has become one of the most success female business owners in the 21st century music industry, then the status quo needs to be challenged and the conversation changed.

One thing I have noticed in recent years in the use of social media as a medium for tackling sexism. While I tip my hat to sites like Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram, as well as bogs tackling the issue of body image and plus-size models, Twitter has emerged as the game changer – #LeanIn, #ChangeTheRatio, #NotBuyingIt, #IamAGirl, and #IAmWoman are just few great examples of the power of public awareness campaigns. One of my current favorites really started out as a fluke. #GrowingUpAGirl began as a playful take on anecdotes of what it is like growing up as a girl. From nostalgic and funny stories about botched pigtails and tragic barbie doll haircuts, it has quickly morphed into a serious platform to discuss the harassment and discriminatory practices women face on a daily basis in their personal, public, and professional lives.

Why have more and more social campaigns tackling the issue of sexism and what it means to be a woman been popping up in recent years? I can’t answer that. But the stories you read about and hear are relatable. They are blindly accepted as commonplace and just part of what it means to grow up a girl. And maybe enough women have finally started to speak out and say no more.

“I am a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will.” –Amy Schumer

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