Recently I was perusing a section in Barnes and Nobles entirely dedicated to the empowerment of girls and women. As I did so, I saw a lot of “stuff” related to getting what you want in a “man’s world,” and how to get it. Some of what I saw (as I scanned through it briefly) seemed really plausible, even good stuff. Some of it just sounded like crap. For those of us with daughters, it’s paramount that we can discern between the two. There is a place in parenting for books, songs, and speakers that render quality information about empowering our girls. But we need to recognize the difference between what makes them strong and healthy women versus what teaches them an empowerment largely centered around the ideology of self-promotion. Empowerment is important. We need to raise girls into strong women, full of fight-I agree with this wholeheartedly. I’ve got three of my own, and self-advocacy is something we discuss often and in much detail. And I dare say, all four of us have an insatiable love of books depicting the courage and historical impact of both non-fiction and fictional heroines. But God help us, if in the process of raising our girls to be strong, we fail to teach them compassion and generosity.
We live in a world that speaks out of both sides of its mouth. On one hand, the world is telling our girls to be tolerant of everything and everyone because if they aren’t, then they are hateful and ignorant. This “sounds like” a message of compassion and generosity. But on the other hand, we are telling these same girls that getting what they want always trumps putting others ahead of themselves. These two messages are conflicting. Truly, women in this great country have had to work hard-and in many cases are still fighting-for many basic rights that we often now take for granted, i.e. voting, equal pay and equal recognition, just to name a few. Recently my youngest daughter attended a high school leadership conference and was quite perturbed that the very first girl she met and spoke with had apparently never heard of either Harriet Tubman or Susan B. Anthony. (Who knows how this conversation even came about?) My daughter immediately, and in rapid fire, sent 4 text messages to me-aghast and full of righteous indignation: “I can’t believe she doesn’t know who either of these women are. This is the future of America. It’s women like her who will be elected to office one day-if women are ever elected to office-seeing as young girls no longer care about women in history who went through hell and back so we could even vote.” I loved the spit and fire in my girl as I read her text messages. But the point in sharing that story is to tell you this: That same girl, coincidently, at that same conference, found herself neck-deep in the personal pain of one of her peers. She did not run and hide. She wholeheartedly stepped up to the plate, and full of that same spit and fire, encouraged him with words awash in compassion and empathy. She helped move her friend from a place of despair to a place of hope. That is what her heroines,’ Harriet Tubman and Susan B Anthony, did in their fight for human rights and for the marginalized and abused of their time. They helped move people from a place of despair to a place of hope. Men and women.
I am a Jesus follower. As such, we believe the bible is the inerrant and timeless Word of God. It is alive and full of promise and the Hope of salvation. On the sacred pages of this book, I find over and over, the need to instill in my girls unconditional love for others. I also find biblical teaching that leaves me without excuse when it comes to raising girls with spit and fire. There is nothing in scripture that I believe supports raising a shrinking violet. Rahab, Mary, Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, Rachel, and the list goes on and on-women in the bible-who were both empowered and empowering. But these women were also spilling over the top with love for their people, their children, their mentors, their neighbors, and their God. They weren’t perfect by any standard. (Read and find out!) But they were mountains of inspiration to those around them, and they were an intricate part of God’s plan to bring hope to His people then, now, and forevermore.
I’ve grown weary of our culture sending messages to our daughters that ‘they must self-promote first and foremost, in order to be successful. That love and compassion are okay, only as long as these two tenets do not interfere with their climb to the top of the ladder.’ That is reckless endangerment if I ever saw it. This narcissistic model for teaching empowerment is hardly a worthy prototype for moving our girls towards a life full of healthy relationships and successful and joyful living. It is a model which brings to mind a line from one of my favorite movies, “You have been weighed; you have been measured; and you have been found wanting.” But the powerful punch of this famous line was first delivered to a king named Belshazzar by a young Jewish man named Daniel, the latter of who was fully devoted to God. Daniel boldly told his captor, that his self-promotion and extreme lack of humility were not cutting the leadership mustard. His words were riveting: “God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.” (Daniel 5:26-27)
I think it’s time we show the world a different model, a different kind of girl power. One that is not found wanting. One that is full of spunk and infectious adventure harnessed together with compassion for others and a generous, servant heart. It’s time we teach our girls that these two seemingly opposite character traits cannot only coexist, but that indeed, girls were wired that way from the moment their beautiful, inquisitive, hopeful, and daring little selves entered this crazy world.