If we intend to sincerely honor women — during Women’s History Month or any other — that needs to begin with championing them to live authentically and stretch their comfort zones. In failing to do that, we fail everyone – – including future generations. We fail everyone who has a woman for a friend. We fail families. Certainly not least, we fail women.
As boys, men generally get the message that they can be anything they want to be. Until the point that we’ve broken their spirit, we encourage strength and tenacity in them. Not so much with women.
Forever worrying about their presentation we expend endless energy to keep them pristine, to shield them from strife and hard times. In the process we shield them from their own greatness. We discourage them from developing and shield them from acquiring the grit and vision required of them by life. Almost every woman knows what it’s like to be told they can’t from an early age. “Girl’s don’t sit like that.” “That’s not ladylike.”
We do this and then wonder why women don’t see themselves as capable and deserving: capable of leaving unfulfilling relationships, worthy of the best life has to offer, able to thrive as themselves. It’s because we don’t encourage courage in women.
Essayist Anais Nin once said that “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”
There’s a certain resolve acquired only by participating in life that you don’t get when you’re brought up fearful of new experiences and remain so. Women lacking courage stay in their comfort zones. They shrink. And as the locus of support in families and society, they pass that on. When loved ones turn to shrinking women, they’re liable to receive advice from a place of fear, advice that keeps them small. According to various figures women invest “when women work, 80-90 percent of their income back into their families, compared with 35 percent for men.”
Families looking to women for guidance will find it uninspired when it doesn’t come from a place of courage and they’ll perpetuate that uninspired leadership, contributing little of their true gifts to their communities. As both managers and entrepreneurs, women on average tend to hire women more than men do. Courageous women in positions of power use their influence to strengthen everyone around them. If we don’t embolden women to take chances in accordance with their values, we miss out on that, personally and professionally. If we don’t promote strength and tenacity in women and girls, we let them down. This does’t have to look the same as it does for boys, but the opportunities should be equal. When we do that — and do it year-round– we will have created a culture that encourages women to be courageous. Individual women everywhere will shine and the rest of us will be able to bask in their brilliance.
*Note: this originally appeared on Community Tampa Bay’s blog in 2015