Barbie to President: when does empowerment go too far?

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The idea that women can be strong and capable is a powerful and necessary message to send to young girls. However, representing every girl in our education and media is a better way to encourage every girl's dreams.

Emma McCabe, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Picture this: it’s the 1950’s, American Suburbia is booming, the nuclear family is at the core of American ideals. Women are working more, it’s true, but mostly as teachers and nurses and besides what is most important is the family. A perfect woman includes 3.5 children, two pets, the perfect house, a submissive nature and above all, keeping up with her looks. 

Now that is all a stereotype, of course, and not representative of every woman’s life story and goals at that time period. And much has occurred in the past century with social and civil rights movements that has greatly expanded the definition of what makes up the ideal women. Dissatisfaction and discontent were rampant among the trophies wives of the time, it took brave women like Betty Friedan to expose such discomforts (Feminine Mystique) and even braver women to make permanent changes in the lives and expectations of women through legislature, workforce participation and higher education. 

And yet, at what point does a society begin to step on the broken shards from the shattered glass ceiling and that which was once so liberating is now simply a remodeled prison?

The point of second wave feminism was to secure reproductive rights, destigmatize the working women, allow equal opportunities for education and employment and to finally be rid of the box. The defining box of what a women’s purpose and personality ought to be. And yet the box still exists, it has simply changed it’s narrative. 

Now, instead of having a stigma on leaving your children to work, the stigma lies on those who choose to be a stay at home mom. Because naturally it can only be one or the other right? And because social rules are so politicized today, it can be often perceived that the traditional stereotype of being a homemaker lies with a more conservative lifestyle and the modern stereotype of the professional woman belongs to the liberal majority. 

A prime example of this polarization was highlighted in the Academy Awards’ (an environment which would be considered more liberal) Best Actress nomination montage played before they announced the winner of the Oscar. Each clip excerpted from the movies built a narrative of one woman. The clips, as shown completely out of context from the movies’ narratives, made each of the characters in these extremely diverse array of movies diluted to a single personality: strong, independent, fearless, loud and unapologetic. 

Now all these qualities can be viewed as positive and it is important to encourage the idea that females can be just as strong, just as independent, just as brave as their male counterparts. But to send a message that all women are the same, that all women have the same dreams, that all women’s priorities should lie primarily in their careers works directly against the second wave feminists original goals. 

Simply changing the limits or definitions of what a woman is and can be is not real liberation. Not all girls have to be in STEM, not all girls have to be bold, not all girls have to want to be the president. Encouraging girls to dream does not mean we are allowed to tell them exactly what they are allowed to dream. Having children and raising them should be viewed as worthy and full of purpose as having a career. 

Take each woman as they are and take their personalities as they come. Because women are as diverse as the flowers of the world and by allowing them to bloom exactly as they are meant to we create a much more beautiful and colorful world. 

Contact Emma McCabe at [email protected].