2012 has proven to be an incredibly exciting and important time to be a woman. After many centuries of being programmed with messages of our inferiority, I see ever-increasing signs of women remembering our inherent value. One especially important sign of this is the fact that we are re-discovering and using our voices, once (and still in some parts of the world) quieted by the threat of being severely punished in one way or another, for speaking truths that might challenge a fundamentally imbalanced status quo.
In the United States, we demonstrated this most notably in the past year on Election Day when a majority of female voters said yes to a president, who, from his first day in office made equality for women a priority when he signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Equal Pay Act. We also said, no to politicians who demonstrated a fundamental lack of respect and/or knowledge for the female body with flippant remarks about rape and abortion. Perhaps most importantly, more women than ever (20 to be exact) will serve in the senate thanks to a record number of courageous women who ran for positions of political power and won.
This is a powerful echo to the great strides made by Canadian women in 2011 and 2012, during which time the number of female premiers rose to five (of 13) and the voting rates among women are now exceeding men in all age groups up to age 64.
In the world of business, the remarkable Marissa Mayer was appointed head of Yahoo and Facebook's Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, was named one of the world's 100 most influential people by Time.
Girls made great strides this past year, too. In June, Disney Pixar released the revolutionary girl-power movie Brave which finally introduced us to a young princess who demonstrated self-authority, the determination to create her own path, and of course, the bravery to solve a problem on her own rather than waiting around to be saved by a prince. As it turns out, an impressive and truly hopeful number of girls demonstrated these same qualities in real life. We saw 14 year-old Julia Bluhm collect more than 80,000 signatures for her petition and succeed at convincing Seventeen Magazine to stop digitally altering images that set an impossible standard for girls and chip away at their self-esteem. Thirteen-year-old McKenna Pope succeeded in her mission to get toy manufacturer Hasbro to create a more gender-neutral version of the iconic Easy Bake Oven, because "everyone can cook." And of course, internationally, we saw the courageous 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist for the education of girls in her country, survive a vicious attack on her by the Taliban. She has been named Time Magazine's Runner-Up Person of the Year.
Now here's where our important work for 2013 comes in. All this groundbreaking awareness, strength and self-authority among women and girls must be protected and nurtured so it continues to grow. In spite of our progress, as of October 2012, the United States still ranked 82nd and Canada 47th in the world for female representation in government. Similarly, strides in the business world to narrow the gender leadership gap has been painfully slow, with women holding less than 4 per cent of CEO positions in Fortune 500 companies.
Because our playing small serves the status quo, there is still resistance to the empowerment of women -- whether it takes the form of limiting the control we have over our own bodies, keeping women out of leadership roles in business or undermining the profound importance of motherhood. There is comfort in familiarity, after all. However, this particular brand of familiar is creating an imbalance that is putting our species and our planet in peril. We must be fiercely diligent in nurturing our girls, be they our daughters, nieces, students or neighbours and we must gently nudge, encourage and if necessary, demand of our husbands, boyfriends, fathers and all the other guys in our lives, that they break out of what Tony Porter brilliantly calls, "The Man Box."
Most importantly, however, we must first be committed as individual women to rediscover our authentic selves by undoing centuries of programming. We must gather our strength, muster our courage and then embody all the power, beauty and wisdom of being a woman so that we may model this for our daughters and create the balance on this planet that longs to be.
As we enter 2013, I invite you to create resolutions for yourself (I prefer to call them intentions) that will be truly transformative and empowering to you as a woman and in turn, will positively impact the lives of more people than you ever would have thought possible. These are nine suggestions that will set you well on your way:
1. I will remind myself daily that I am the captain of my own ship. Recognize that you create your own path and plan each day with this in mind. As women, we have the capacity to create a whole new human being if we so choose. It's near impossible to be truly conscious of this reality and still question your ability to create just about anything you set your mind to.
2. I will treat my body like a temple. And you are the gatekeeper! A healthy body is a prerequisite for anything else you do. As often as possible, eat foods that are chock-full of vitamins and minerals that will truly nourish your body, do something active every day and trust that when you do it will take its natural, healthy, beautiful shape.
3. I will reconnect with the cycles of my body. The shame we have attached to menstruation has made it a taboo subject and left many girls and women completely under-educated about this powerful aspect of the female body. Understanding and recognizing the subtle and sometimes not so subtle hormonal changes of your cycle will help you to honor and embrace rather than resent your magical body. Read Dr. Christiane Northrup on the wisdom of the menstrual cycle.
4. I will challenge myself to be the one who defines my beauty inside and out. This will require critically filtering media and societal messages that tell you that you must look, act and speak in a prescribed way in order to be deemed an attractive and acceptable woman. Check out Dove's Evolution video to get a powerful three-minute primer on the lengths advertisers go to create an impossible standard of beauty and then get to work on creating your own standard.
5. I will set aside at least 30 minutes of pure 'me time' every day. Use this time to read a book that speaks to your soul, meditate, sit in a quiet place, write, paint, peel off the "who I'm supposed to be" layers and re-discover your authentic self. When the messages of others are quieted in your head, your heart and soul can be heard and they never lie.
6. I will commit to consistent time with the women of my circle. There is great power in unity. Overcome centuries of divide-and-conquer tactics that have fostered mistrust and catty behaviour among women and inevitably hold us all back. Other women are a great resource because no one understands the challenging path of womanhood more than another woman who is travelling it with you.
7. I will embrace my own sexuality. Women are born as powerful, sexual, multi-orgasmic beings. This gift has been buried under centuries of cultural programming that has taught us to feel shame for our bodies and our sexuality. Imagine if every woman committed to becoming the subject of her own sexuality rather than the object of someone else's!
8. I will trust my instincts. Believe in the life-sustaining instincts you have as a woman, the profound wisdom you carry and your ability to see truth. Too often we doubt ourselves. Your instincts, that feeling in your gut, will never steer you wrong.
9. I will remember who I am at my core. Keep near you a photograph or two of yourself before the age of 10. As we entered adolescence, most of us started to become the person we needed to be in order to please others. After a few years, we start to forget the little girl who knew and expressed herself fearlessly and on her own behalf. Starting and ending your day seeing her face will inspire you to rediscover her, hear her, love her, honour her and fiercely protect her, always.
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