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The One Thing I Want Young Women to Know in 2018

The One Thing I Want Young Women to Know in 2018

I’ve been thinking a lot about my daughter lately, and the messages that I as a mother have given to her – and where I have fallen short. I was recently noting with a friend that we both told our daughters they could do anything they put their minds to and painted the world as a welcoming, fair place. Don’t talk to strangers, of course; but, other than that, go for it.

But then I’ll never forget the first time I saw men looking her up and down.

At the age of just 16. It broke my heart that they were seeing her solely for what she looks like; and it broke my heart further that there was nothing I could do about it, save glaring at them.

[Read: A Letter to the Men in Our Lives]

And then I sent my daughter off to college.

College: perhaps the transformative period of a young person’s life.

And a place where 23.1% of undergraduate females experience sexual assault through physical force, violence or incapacitation, according to Rainn.org. (23.1%! But we send our daughters to college anyway.) I told her to always stay with her friends, don’t leave each other alone at parties, but I still felt pretty powerless.

And now she’s looking for a summer job.

Another transformative experience, one that can set her up for a successful career. And where 48% of women report having been harassed. It’s also where, we are now realizing, that “you can do anything you put your mind to” hasn’t really been the case. Instead, I should have said that this was a place at which she could do anything she put her mind to, as long as she works hard, excels…and is lucky enough to avoid a bad boss.

I’ve heard these numbers – 23.1% and 48% – before and noted how unfair they are. But perhaps it’s only when you’re sending someone you love out into those worlds that you fully recognize how scary those numbers really are.

How does this change?

While ruminating on all of this, I had the privilege of attending a breakfast with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand last week. Now put aside politics here; she had what struck me as a really important message, delivered as a throw-away line: Someone asked what "they" were planning in DC for the next election. And she replied: Forget about "them;" we can’t rely on "them;" the old "them" didn't work so well. It has to be "us."

There were some "us"es in the room: One woman had run for local office for the first time (and won) and one women is gearing up to run for office, perhaps for mayor. There were also “us”es who had started their own businesses, in some part to build the environments in which they wanted to work. And there were “us”es who started businesses to help other women live better lives; I like to think that Ellevest counts among those.

The #MeToo movement is also teaching us the power of “us” in driving change in the workforce.

[Related: Let’s Give These Women the Headlines They Deserve

Enough of waiting for someone else to effect change; these women knew the risks they were taking in speaking out, and they did it anyway.

In the midst of all of the can-you-believe-it news, the emergence of “us” gives me hope for my daughter, and all the young women who are moving into the workforce.

(For more on messages to young women, see my “A Letter to Young Women, A Year into the Trump-nado.” And for more on the work Senator Gillibrand is doing, check out this Politico article.)

This article originally appeared in Ellevest's newsletter, What The Elle.


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