Valuing Women as Women

Brit Marling as Prairie Johnson in a scene from “The OA.”Credit…JoJo Whilden/Netflix

Brit Marling had an essay in the NYT Sunday Review titled “I Don’t Want to Be the Strong Female Lead.” The entire essay is worth a read, but my favorite line was this:

“Because what we really mean when we say we want strong female leads is: ‘Give me a man but in the body of a woman I still want to see naked.’”

When I think about the gains women have made — and we’ve made plenty — so much of it is about achieving what men achieve and doing it the way they do.

I’ve always bristled at the idea that the reason women haven’t reached the top of so many professions is because they simply have different, nay nobler, aspirations. Isn’t being a stay-at-home mother so much more fulfilling than running a Fortune 500 company? It’s a false dichotomy, for starters, pitting motherhood against achievements in a way that we don’t do for men. And of course the answer for some women is “no” and yet we are still where we are in terms of women’s representation. I’m perfectly willing to concede that no, not every woman wants to be a CEO. But neither does every man. And I am willing to bet a big amount that there absolutely are at least 250 women who would relish the challenge for running a big company. So the “women just don’t want that much power/responsibility/stress” just falls apart pretty quickly in my view.

But I also bristle at the idea that men are the standard against which we should measure ourselves. As this earlier Times column noted, “As a rule, anything associated with girls or women — from the color pink to domestic labor — is by definition assigned a lower cultural value than things associated with boys or men. Fashion, for instance, is vain and shallow, while baseball is basically a branch of philosophy. Tax dollars are poured into encouraging girls to take up STEM subjects, but no one seems to care much whether boys become nurses.”

I want to live in the world where women and girls are valued, truly, really, honestly, as equal to men and boys. The world where that equality does not require women to be more like men.