One bright Saturday afternoon when I was 9 years old, my father, in a burst of paternal enthusiasm, announced we would be going to the bookstore. Pleased at the idea of adding another Goosebumps novel to my collection, I was more than happy to capitulate. It wasn’t until we were at the cash register that I realized the book we were getting was not Goosebumps after all, but something far duller: “Why It’s Great to Be a Girl: 50 Things You Can Tell Your Daughter to Increase Her Pride in Being Female.” After flipping through and confirming my saddened suspicion that its pages contained no tales of monster blood or haunted cameras, I arrived at a conclusion: This book had nothing new to tell me.
Until that point, I had no reason to suspect that being a girl was anything other than great. First of all, the only true distinguishing characteristic I could identify between my male contemporaries and myself was that, while they were stuck with pants, I had the option of playing freeze tag in a skirt. I could play with video games or dolls without persecution from either side; and my chief favorite pastime growing up was playing with dinosaurs. I saw this as neither girlie nor butch—after all, why would plastic dinosaurs have a gendered tradition?
I have maintained this attitude into adulthood, and generally assumed the women of my generation had maintained it with me. But on looking around, I’ve been startled to see that the issue of women’s self-confidence may run deeper than what a 150-page book is prepared to contend with. Worse still, this epiphany came to me when I was working as an editorial assistant for a major news organization, my primary job being to commission commentaries for the Opinion section of the website. “We need women,” my boss would tell me daily. “Women get women.”