March 3 is Girls Day in Japan. All across my home country, families have set up elaborate doll sets featuring a princess and her prince decked out in ornate kimono. The one in my house cost my grandmother a stupid amount of money, but its hand-crafted figurines of royalty are like crack for my princess-addicted three-year-old.
I’m not sure what the point of Girls Day is, but Japan being Japan, I’m fairly certain its origin is not feminist in nature. So as my girls gets older, I’m going to make one up. I’m going to tell them it’s the day of the year when everyone gets to remember how special it is to be a girl. The Japanese princess on the pedestal, though inappropriately dressed to take over the world, is on a level with her prince. In fact, she’s not a princess at all but an elected official, granted her important role by dint of hard work and chutzpah. I will explain that chutzpah is a very useful Yiddish term with no real Japanese translation.
It’s a great time to be a girl in America, as Tina Fey said on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update—”and not just because of that new yoghurt that makes you poop.”
We’ve got a woman running for president, which means that even in the male-dominated pages of my weekly newsmagazine, at least one female face is sure to show up somewhere. We’ve got women running corporations and governments, starting up businesses, winning Oscars for best screenplay. I have friends who are lawyers, web site designers, high-school history teachers—and raising children who don’t blow things up.
As I prepare to bring another girl into the world, I find myself wondering what the future holds for my two daughters. The obstacles I face in my career and life are hard to pin on my gender. Am I not getting the really cool assignments because I’m a girl, or because of a myriad other factors including a glaring lack of talent? Do I get stuck with more of the childcare because I’m the mom, or because I like hanging out with my kid? Do I earn less as a woman? Work harder? Struggle more? Poop with greater difficulty without the aid of an expensive yoghurt?
Recently, I watched the Masterpiece special on the life of Jane Austen. It caught my beloved author at the twilight of her life, living it up as best she could as a lively-eyed spinster who had chosen her love of writing over love. Though she died at peace with her choice, she never reconciled with the paradox of being a phenomenally successful author yet completely penniless and without control of her estate or family’s fortune.
As a writer today, I don’t have to make those choices. I don’t have to forego marriage and children in order to make a living, and a decent one at that, in the profession of my choice. Okay, so I’m not exactly turning out Pride and Prejudice. Would Jane Austen have penned one-page diagrams on how not to look old at work? (Do buy the magazine for the eye-candy layout; you can’t see it online.) (Would Jane Austen tell people to buy her books for the pictures?)
Still, I argue that being a wife and mom informs my writing, colors my reporting, fills my head with ideas, my heart with purpose. If that sounds hifalutin, I’ll just say my husband bears a striking resemblance to Colin Firth. From the back.
There’s no doubt women still suffer inequities. But I think we begin to bust the blockades brick by brick. As a parent, I want to strive to give my girls support, encouragement and education to equal that afforded any boy. As Dee Dee Myers says in my Q&A with her on Time.com, boosting a girl’s confidence is a task that requires commitment and vigilance.
So that’s going to be my March 3 theme going forward. Girls Day isn’t about princesses in stiff kimonos. It’s about girls with chutzpah.