What do you see when you look at these images?Maybe you see the answer to your political prayers. Or maybe you see the reason for them. You might see a cause, an achievement, a movie? Perhaps you see clothing and skin tones, gender and status.
Or perhaps like me you see women like these and see possibility? The potential to be women who are single, married, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends – but also leaders, influencers, culture shapers in their field, communities, their nations? I’m not talking about women who have it all. I don’t see women who have it all. I see women who indicate and illustrate what a woman can be. We need to see them.
Where I grew up, you didn’t see many women of color leading. We may have been entertainers, athletes (which was great to some degree) but apparently we were not leaders. One friend I met in my 20’s told me that in her youth, she was advised to go into music. Her teacher seemed unable to comprehend that this beautiful woman of color was not especially musical, not an athlete, but was an academic, an intellectual, blessed with passionate ideas and vision. I was fortunate enough to have teachers who sought to cultivate all that lay within all their pupils – regardless of color, gender or class.
Still, my overriding challenge remained. If I couldn’t see it around me, could I be it? Could a girl like me become what I wanted to be, or was it predetermined by my color, my gender, my circumstance? I sought images, examples who would reveal and remind me that there were options. I watched Oprah because of what she’d achieved. I loved Claire Huxtable in the Cosby Show because even though she was fictional – I knew that art was imitating someone’s life. I longed to see someone whose very existence and example would validate my talents and dreams, my call.
Besides, the voices telling me I was worthless were so loud. The voices whining its not fair debilitated me.The voices saying there’s no point in trying were relentless. The voices saying you’re dark, too dark... Saying a woman shouldn’t be strong, a woman, shouldn’t lead… couldn’t influence. Shouldn’t want to change the world and make it a better place… What? Who in hell was I listening to?
I was also listening to what I saw. It was hard to believe that my sapling sized sense of vocation of potential wasn’t all in my head, a delusion of grandeur when I didn’t see it outside my head all that often. It was lonely at times to think that way… to live that way, lonelier still.
You can’t be what you can’t see says Marian Wright Edelman, Founder & President Children’s Defense Fund.
Missrepresentation (a documentary that I’m waiting to see) talks of how the images and the portrayal of women in today’s media are limiting young women’s perspectives on their leadership potential. As a woman, but also as an aunt, a godmother and a mother of two girls – the trailer alone arrested my attention. I want don’t want the girls in my life to settle for the lies that their worth and value and potential is found in their looks alone. I want them to know that their whole life is worth cultivating. Their gifts, their talents , their minds, their character.
I want them to see other women who are healthy and whole and free. Women whose lives are worth imitating, whether they’re a stay at home mom, a teacher, a president, or activist in the local community.
And whoever they decide to be or whatever they decide to do – let it be because they want to. Because they can see what they can be.
We need to see, to be, women who know that their whole lives are worth cultivating. Our gifts, our talents, our character.
Who or what do you need to see to help you become all who you’re designed to be?