Since first grade, I have been reading about women only as a single body. I have grown to admire people like Alexander Hamilton and F. Scott Fitzgerald because they had their own paragraphs, and Jane Addams and Harper Lee had to share theirs. My textbooks have always clumped women in a pile, forced them into one paragraph and to formulate the exact same message. It made me think that the only reason a girl wanted her name in print was because she was a girl, and because it was good for all girls for her to be successful. Which is nice. But its also strange. When a girl is successful, she has to be the voice for her entire gender, whether she wants to be or not; whether she is a feminist or not; whether she is a writer, a director, a scientist, she is above all things a girl.
And that is nice, for me, to have someone to look up to. To see Janet Yellen, and Lena Dunham, and Sheryl Sandberg and know that I will always have one thing in common with them.
But I think that those paragraphs in the textbooks that have had a much larger impact on our lives than we realize have defined great women as the simple limbs of a larger feminist body, and it masks their brilliance. It masks their triumphs, which if were compared to men's would be just as monumental. But they never were. Just because history is "his" we have forgotten that our founding fathers had mothers and wives. We forget that Abigail Adams had a deeper understanding of democracy's virtues than her husband did. "Remember the ladies," she told him. And he didn't. Nobody in history did.
History has molded itself, it has been recorded in such a way, that it makes women success relative. It never recognized a woman as The First to do anything but as The First Woman to do something. Who knows whether or not that is the truth of our past but it was written in that way. And now we are in a place that forces girls who are Great to speak for all of us.
I want Lena Dunham to be able to talk about simply being a writer and a director. I want Sheryl Sandberg to be able to be a shrewd COO for a lucrative company. I want Janet Yellen to be able to resolve unemployment and interest rate problems better than any of her predecessors. But they will always do more than that. Because they are girls and they have a responsibility to.
So when I look at my textbook and read about a single "women," and when I hear girls talking each other down in the hallways, and when I play on a basketball team that has never once made me feel like I was a part of something, I worry that the Greats aren't getting their message across. Because I am in school more hours a day than I am watching or reading about successful women. And so the only thing I learn is that female success is relative, and I forget that there are women around today working tirelessly to disprove that. And I do it, and I see my classmates do it because it is what our textbooks taught us to do: we dream of being that one girl engineer, or the first woman President, or the best female writer in Hollywood, and we only compete with each other. We only make room for one girl who will speak for us all. A girl who won't be remembered as a great scientific mind, or a strong leader, or an innovative writer, but as a girl who overcame the trappings of her gender and is just another supplement to the feminist movement.
But if we are supportive of each other now, then when we are older success will reflect the dynamic of society. 50% female and 50% male. So there won't be just one girl championing each field, and the stories of successful women will be about their work and not their gender. If we work together, and dream about our futures not in the context of us as girls, but as hard workers, and brains, and artists, then there will be room for more than one girl at the top, and we will be able to speak for ourselves.
I want to write a new history with all of you, and I want it to be pink.