I’m planted firmly at the beginning of Generation X.
I have a Masters degree in business.
I’ve worked since I was ten years old.
My grandmother was born in the early 1900s. She left school after the 8th grade to help her father on the farm, cook and clean for her three brothers and sister after her mother died during childbirth.
My mother wasn’t allowed to go to college because she was female. I don’t mean that my grandparents didn’t care for her; it was simply a sign of the times. She dated my father in high school. My grandparents knew marriage and kids were her destiny; why invest in something she’d never finish anyway?
They were wrong – she had the time. She didn’t marry my father until she was 22, four and a half years after she graduated high school. Instead, she went to secretarial school and worked while my father went to college and entered the Army.
Growing up, my mother repeated one thing over and over again. You will get a degree, she said. You will never have to rely on a man for income, she said. A degree is the only thing that matters, she said.
I listened. Four years after high school, I walked across the stage once again and received my Bachelors in Finance.
But that degree came with stipulations. We were women, hear us roar. But there was an underlying message that also taught not to forget you’re a woman as you reach for your dreams.
I was told to get the degree, but make sure it was the right degree to take care of a home and a family too.
The degree is mandatory, but look around for a husband in the process. Someone to rely on, take care of you, give you the stability you’ll need as you age.
There was another message that came through loud and clear. It’s what I call the good girl syndrome.
Good girls can have it all – but stay a good girl until you’re married. That meant no sex, limited exploring, stay safe and close to home. Put only one thing in your sights – an education. Life experience and growth weren’t part of the equation. Stay safe and never lose sight of the end goal – a degree. All of the other stuff can be explored after you’re married.
That was also was a sign of the times. And frankly, looking back, I’m in awe of how quickly things changed.
In two generations, the women in my family moved from an 8th grade education, to a high school diploma, to a Masters degree. Women moved from staying home and taking care of the family full time because it was expected, to working full time outside of the home while taking care of the family because it’s what I chose to do.
But the good girl hangups held me back – I can see it now. I was scared of relationships, scared of getting close to anyone, scared of the potential outcome, which in those days was a baby out of wedlock. I was scared to explore beyond the safety of what I called home.
And of course, the labels didn’t help.
Have sex before marriage, and you were a slut, loose, easy. Venture too far from home and you were wild, unruly.
The message was loud and clear. Women didn’t enjoy all freedoms of life – they couldn’t explore all aspects of who they were. Education? Of course. Career? You bet. Relationships? As long as marriage was the end goal, and you stayed “good” in the process.
I realize I became the person I am today because of the exploring I was allowed to do. The classes I took in college allowed me to learn a lot about myself. But there was so much more of “me” to explore.
I didn’t date to find out who I was, I dated to find a man to marry. In some ways, I dated to find a man who would take care of me. It wasn’t on the surface, but you can bet it was built in my subconscious. Because as women, we were still struggling for the right to rent apartments, buy houses, and get business loans on our own, without a man behind us co-signing for it on the side.
I ended up with a good one – I’m married to a man who still makes me laugh every day. We have an awesome relationship in which we both enjoy each other and respect each other. I’m lucky, and I know it.
But that doesn’t change the fact that in today’s world, today’s women need to focus even more on who they are as an individual, long before they ever think of committing to something for the long term. That includes a 30 year mortgage as well as a lifetime commitment to a man.
There is no such thing as a “good girl.” Would you tell your son to be a “good boy?” It sounds absurd.
So why do it?
I want my daughter to be great in all aspects of her life. And I tell her so all the time.
I want her to get a degree to grow her mind.
I want her to work to explore her passions.
I want her to earn an income to understand budgeting.
I want her to invest to understand long term planning.
I want her to have hobbies to develop a playful spirit.
I want her to have relationships with all kinds of people to help grow her spirit.
I want her to travel to find out how similar we all are.
And yes, I want her to fall in love, have sex, and feel alive. Play and experiment with that too before commitment ever enters the discussion.
When will we realize we’re all safe to explore every aspect of who we are in this world without it having implications on everybody else? When will we put aside judgment and worry more about the end goal?
Because the future can and should be an amazing opportunity where we all come together, learn, grow, and work towards a better world.
That doesn’t mean limiting beliefs, putting someone in their place, or holding them back.
It means letting them soar.